Japan’s former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, seen as a challenger to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s re-election as the ruling party chief this fall, has implicitly criticized the premier for his handling of cronyism accusations against him.
“It’s wrong to speak as if something that has happened did not happen. It’s wrong to keep evading,” said Ishiba, a former secretary general of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, in a stump speech in Tokushima, western Japan, on Sunday.
The remarks were interpreted as referring to Abe’s denial of his or his wife’s influence in government decisions to permit a close friend of Abe’s to open the first new veterinary school in Japan in half a century, and sell at a deeply discounted price a plot of state land to a school where Akie Abe served as honorary principal.
“When you ought to say ‘I’m sorry’ you should say so. If these things are not properly done, this country will really go in a wrong direction,” said Ishiba, who leads a faction of 20 lawmakers including himself within the LDP.
Ishiba also lamented the lack of strong calls within the LDP for the prime minister to be held responsible over the allegations.
“The LDP cannot win public support if it cannot properly admit (the prime minister) has made a mistake,” said the 61-year-old politician.
Ishiba set up his faction immediately after Abe was re-elected as LDP president uncontested in 2015, and the move is seen as part of his preparations to run in the upcoming LDP leadership race in September this year. In the 2012 election, Abe defeated Ishiba in a runoff.
In May, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, who leads the LDP’s largest faction of 94 lawmakers, called on lawmakers to back Abe in the September race.
In a Kyodo News poll in May, Ishiba came second as the person who should be elected as the LDP leader, garnering 24.7 percent of support, following 26.6 percent for the LDP’s rising star Shinjiro Koizumi, who is the party’s chief deputy secretary general.
Abe came third with 21.2 percent. But Abe was the most popular figure among respondents who support the LDP, getting 45.8 percent.