The first round of the unified local elections on April 12 showed once again that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party are in firm control of the nation. More than two years after the December 2012 general elections, there remains no sign whatsoever that the opposition parties are on the rebound or can even put up a decent fight against the ruling coalition.
Political donations have been a problem for Japanese politicians for a very long time. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already has lost three of his ministers due to alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law after the reshuffle of his Cabinet in September last year, and suspicions are being raised about a fourth, Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura.
Only days after Agriculture Minister Koya Nishikawa saw himself forced to resign over allegations of campaign funding irregularities, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet faces renewed challenges with another senior minister suffering similar allegations, as well as a concern about the role of government subsidy receiving firms that has touched even the prime minister and chief cabinet secretary themselves.
After having spent only six months in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reshuffled cabinet, Minister of Agriculture Koya Nishikiwa found himself forced to resign over allegations of wrongfully accepting campaign donations from the sugar industry. The decision to step down didn’t come as a surprise, as the critique about the funding scandal had been steadily building, even leading to questioning in the Diet, and eventually leading Prime Minster Abe to make a public defense of his agriculture minister.
The Yomiuri Shinbun stunned the world in late November with a highly unusual apology. The paper announced that it had found dozens of articles in past issues of the English-language Daily Yomiuri (now called The Japan News) between February 1992 and January 2013 that used the expression “sex slave” to refer to wartime comfort women.
Today Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will form his third cabinet since his December 2012 return to power. It will look an awful lot like the second cabinet, the only difference being that underperforming Defense Minister Akinori Eto will be dropped in favor of veteran hand Gen Nakatani.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s rather bizarre decision to call an early general election at a juncture that is distinctly unfavorable to his personal interests has set analysts ablaze, wondering how many seats the LDP-Komeito coalition can lose before Abe’s gambit would be judged a political failure.
When a colleague recently asked us if we’d heard the rumor that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was considering a snap election in December, our first response was to wave it off as quite implausible. As we began to read such stories in the Japanese media, our second reaction was to view it as a likely bluff that the prime minister is using to discipline his own restive party members over the consumption tax hike issue.
There’s a whole lotta shaking going on in Tokyo.
The government deals itself all the cards in deciding what constitutes acceptable journalism about official policymaking.