Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is showing few signs of giving serious thought to the fact that two important Cabinet members have resigned within two months after taking office.
Abe has acknowledged his “responsibility for their appointments” to Cabinet posts, but he is failing to act in line with the responsibility.
The focus of the Lower House Budget Committee session held on Nov. 6 was on Abe’s responses to questions about the recent resignations of trade minister Isshu Sugawara and Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai.
Before their appointments, some in the administration and the ruling parties questioned whether they were really qualified for Cabinet posts. But Abe stressed during the committee session that they were both the right appointees for the jobs.
While saying he is “feeling acutely (his) responsibility” for the Cabinet appointments that have turned out to be misguided decisions, Abe insisted that he will take responsibility for their resignations by making “all-out efforts to achieve progress in government services.”
Neither Sugawara nor Kawai has explained in public about the allegations of election irregularities that forced them to step down.
When opposition lawmakers demanded that Abe exercise political leadership to make sure that the two lawmakers will offer convincing explanations about the issues in question, the prime minister said the two “should, as elected politicians, fulfill their responsibility to explain on their own.”
Abe’s reluctance to take action to deal with the matter will do nothing to help restore public trust in his administration, a goal he himself has set.
Since he returned to power in late 2012, as many as 10 Cabinet members have been forced to bow out due to scandals and controversial remarks.
If Abe had done serious soul-searching over his Cabinet picks and learned lessons from his mistakes, there would not have been so many resignations of ministers.
Abe has also taken a “not my problem” attitude toward the education ministry’s decision to postpone the planned introduction of private-sector English language tests as part of a new standardized university admission exam program starting in fiscal 2020.
The ministry’s reasonable but belated move has nonplussed and dismayed many students preparing for university entrance exams, their parents and high school teachers.
Despite the serious confusion caused by the postponement of the new English test plan, Abe just said it was education minister Koichi Hagiuda’s decision, indicating he has no intention of involving the entire administration in tackling the problem.
Abe’s stance is all the more questionable because the English test plan was a “reform” proposed six years ago by an advisory council on education set up by the prime minister himself.
During the Budget Committee session, Abe heckled an opposition lawmaker asking questions about the scandal over the government’s decision to allow the Kake Educational Institution, run by a close friend of Abe, to open a new veterinary medicine faculty, creating a stir.
Abe’s jeering during Diet sessions is nothing new. But he acted in an extremely disgraceful manner by heckling a lawmaker during a session that was discussing issues concerning the administration’s political integrity.
Opposition parties demanded that the two ministers who have resigned attend the session to answer related questions. That is because they stepped down before scheduled Diet sessions where those questions were to be raised.
Since the two politicians have not answered any of the questions raised by the allegations against them, the opposition parties had every reason to make the demand.
But the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, flatly rejected the demand, saying there is “no precedent.”
Instead, an LDP lawmaker who asked questions at the Nov. 6 Budget Committee session went so far as to praise the two former ministers as “persons whose judgment and characters are worthy of trust.”
Under the Abe administration, a slew of officials implicated in serious scandals resigned from their posts without fulfilling their responsibility to explain about the allegations and then made quiet political comebacks after the storm subsided.
If Abe is betting that the public will soon forget about the latest resignations of the two ministers, he is likely to make the same mistake again.