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Editorial: Abe should come clean on doubts over cherry blossom event

  • November 15, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 2:00 p.m.
  • English Press

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has yet to offer convincing answers to any of the key questions concerning the controversy over the annual cherry blossom viewing event.

Abe’s decision to cancel next spring’s event should not end the efforts to uncover the facts.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Nov. 13 that the event for next fiscal year has been canceled, adding that the decision was made by the prime minister himself.


Since Abe returned to power in 2012, the number of guests has swollen, with the list including many Abe supporters. That has raised public criticism that Abe has been using the event, hosted by the prime minister, for his personal gain.


There is little doubt that the abrupt decision to cancel the gala is aimed at blunting the momentum of the campaign to uncover facts about Abe’s possible involvement.


The government has said it will try to resume the event in fiscal 2021 after reviewing the current vague criteria for selecting the guests and the opaque process of inviting them.


The government should take this opportunity to reform the event, which has been held since 1952, to make it more suitable for the current era. That requires reconsidering many of the long-established practices to restore the original principle that people who have made notable achievements and contributions in various areas should be invited to the party.


Before these steps, however, it is necessary to get to the bottom of the allegations against the Abe administration, which is accused of using the tax-financed public event for its political gain.


At a news conference on the morning of Nov. 13, Suga denied the existence of special quotas set aside for Abe and other politicians in deciding whom to invite. In another news

conference in the afternoon of the same day, however, he admitted that recommendations were accepted from Abe and other top administration officials as well as ruling party lawmakers.


It is hard to believe that Suga, a veteran politician, did not know how things were arranged. His initial remarks were extremely insincere.


In addition, Suga has only repeated that the number of guests recommended by politicians is unclear because the lists have been destroyed.


Abe has told the Diet that he has not been involved in the selection of the guests. But it has been revealed that notices about tours featuring the cherry blossom event were sent by Abe’s office to voters in his electoral district.


The Cabinet Secretariat’s claim that Abe himself may not have been aware of the fact is hard to accept, but even if that is true Abe should still be held responsible for failing to exercise effective oversight.


Every year, a socializing party was organized by the Abe supporters’ organization on the night before the cherry viewing event at a luxury hotel in Tokyo, which Abe attended.

Opposition parties say the cost of such a party cannot be fully covered by the 5,000-yen ($46) fee per head and also point out that the political funding reports submitted by political organizations related to Abe do not list any cost related to such a party. They say the funding of these parties could have violated the Public Offices Election Law and the Political Funds Control Law.


If Abe says there has been no such violation, he should explain how the costs have been financed.


But Abe has refused to answer questions concerning these and other specifics at the Diet, citing the need to protect the personal information of the guests. As for the decision to cancel next year’s event, he only said it was his own while speaking with reporters.


After two key ministers resigned recently, Abe said each politician should shape up and fulfill his or her responsibility to explain.


He should match his words with actions by accepting the opposition demand for intensive Budget Committee sessions on the matter and offer straightforward answers to related questions.

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