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Opinion: Will a change of prime minister serve the national interest?

By Koichi Hagiuda, Executive Acting Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party


We are witnessing a series of unbelievable scandals (at the Ministry of Finance and elsewhere), involving the work of the government, which is built on public trust. Worse still, organizations are increasingly engaging in something like self-defense. This is a serious situation. It is like, “What happened to Kasumigaseki?”  I don’t know whether this is a special case or, with all due respect, the traditional way of doing business in Kasumigaseki. If it is the latter, it is a serious problem.


Some critics say the scandals involving bureaucrats are attributable to the long-time rule of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. I doubt that. Rather, I believe these problems were brought to light thanks to the unified personnel management of government agencies’ senior officials at the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs made possible by Abe’s long-term government.


However, if the long-running political instability in which the prime minister changes every year had allowed bureaucrats to change politics to their own liking, I’d have to say the government was also responsible.


The government has to thoroughly investigate the cause of the problems and create a system for preventing a recurrence.


On the other hand, it is too much to say that “the government should take responsibility” or “the cabinet should resign en masse” just because bureaucrats caused scandals.


Abe does not give favors to his acquaintances in politics. I am well aware of that because I have been watching him close up. I think he should take this opportunity to reflect on the fact that his wife Akie, amidst her many activities, engaged in some interactions that were prone to misinterpretation and to make a fresh start.


It will soon be the season of diplomacy. After the summit between Japan and the U.S., there will be summits between South and North Korea; the U.S. and North Korea; Japan, China, and South Korea; and Japan and Russia.


Some commentators say, “Japan alone has missed the bus and is being isolated” over dialogue with Pyongyang. But that’s not true. Japan displayed leadership at the UN and, after completing preparations by involving China and Russia, which were previously uncooperative, put pressure on North Korea in order to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As a result, we have gotten to the point where we have brought Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.


There can be no progress toward settlement of the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea if we miss this opportunity. I believe Japan successfully conveyed its thoughts to the U.S. in the latest summit. We want U.S. President Donald Trump to meet with the North Korean leader bearing Japan’s feelings in mind.


Japan needs to take the lead and show the role it should play for the peace and stability of Asia in the summit between Japan, China, and South Korea to be held in Tokyo.


Given this diplomatic schedule, I wonder whether a change of prime minister would serve Japan’s national interest by going as far as wasting the accumulated diplomatic efforts. I want the public to consider this in a calm way.


Trust cannot be restored overnight. Tireless efforts are needed to sort out problems one by one and create a system to prevent a recurrence.


The current mission of the Abe government is to achieve successes in diplomacy. The creation of an environment in which Abe can with confidence conduct diplomacy over the next few months, which will determine Japan’s future, will serve Japan’s national interest. We want to devote ourselves to that end.


The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is preparing to hold a presidential election in September. But Abe has not said that he will seek a third term in the first place. He may have no choice but to devote himself on a daily basis to fulfilling the duties of the incumbent prime minister. What is important is not what he does to win a third term but how he leads Japan and resolves critical issues one by one. I think the prime minister’s all-out efforts to grapple with these tasks will eventually win him a third term.


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