Japan's opposition parties grill Abe for 2nd day in parliament over favoritism scandal

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-25 20:06:02|Editor: Xiang Bo
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TOKYO, July 25 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was grilled for a second day by opposition party lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday over allegations he used his influence to manipulate the selection of a new veterinary department to be opened in a special deregulated zone.

The second day of questioning took place in the House of Councillors as a special ad hoc session aimed at opposition party members further probing the prime minister's alleged knowledge that in exerting his influence to ensure Kake Educational Institution secure permission and support to open the vet school, he would be helping a personal friend.

Kotaro Kake, a long-term friend of Abe, runs Kake Educational Institution. The pair were pictured in a lower house session a day earlier in an enlarged photograph holding up glasses of wine together while looking at the camera.

They are known to have socialized on a number of occasions prior to Abe retaking power in 2012 and have been friends before Abe became a lawmaker in 1993, sources close to the matter have said.

Abe on Tuesday was grilled as to exactly when he learned Kake was submitting an application to open a veterinary school, with Democratic Party President Renho, who goes by her first name, pointing out that the prime minister had contradicted himself in terms of dates, compared to his prior statements.

Abe said that in his position as the chair of the Council on National Strategic Special Zones, he first learned that Kake Educational Institution had been selected when the council signed off on the institution.

"I must apologize for mixing up the date when I first learned Kake was applying and when I learned the city was applying. But what I've said is the truth," the prime minister maintained.

Renho went on to address broader cases of memory loss within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, claiming that sudden cases of amnesia when it comes to accounting for issues that need to be resolved are only adding to the public's mistrust of the LDP.

"People are having doubts because some inside your administration lose their memories and records and keep their mouths shut. If someone outside the administration speaks out, they bash them. And people in the administration constantly rewrite previous statements saying they never said them," Renho was quoted as saying.

Despite Kake Educational Institution applying for permission to open a new veterinary department in the specially deregulated zone 15 times since 2007, all of the institution's previous applications were rejected.

The Japan Veterinary Medical Association has also long been opposed to the opening of a new veterinary school, due to the surplus of vets already working in Japan, it has said. The school would mark the first veterinary department to be opened in Japan in half a century.

However, the school was selected and the local city assembly provided the land to the institution to build the new department for free, records show.

In addition, they provided a hefty 9.6 billion yen (86.54 million U.S. dollars) as a subsidy for the school's construction costs.

Abe, whose support rate has plunged to historic lows following a series of scandals related to himself, his senior Liberal Democratic Party member lawmakers and cabinet ministers, with the latest polls showing his support rate at well below 30 percent, has long been facing accusations of cronyism from the opposition camp.

The allegations came to light when whistle-blower Kihei Maekawa, former vice education minister, claimed that official ministry documents indicated that Abe's influence was used in favor of Kake Educational Institution being selected.

Maekawa said that its selection was "a foreign conclusion."

The documents reportedly suggest that the Education Ministry was told by the Cabinet Office that the choice for the new department "was heard to have been the prime minister's wish."

The Democratic Party also maintains that documents exist which show that negotiations had taken place between the ministry and the Cabinet Office regarding the set time-frame for opening the new department at the university.

As for the timing of the opening of the new veterinary department at the Okayama University of Science, which was slated for April 2018, one document reportedly states, "This is what the highest level of the prime minister's office has said."

Okayama University of Science was specifically chosen by the government to open a new veterinary medicine school in Ehime Prefecture.

The prefecture is one of Japan's national strategic special economic zones, which has far more relaxed regulations to boost growth in the area, as part of Abe's overall growth strategy.

Maekawa has stated that the prime minister's aides had also pressurized the green-lighting of the Kake project and the expediting of the school's construction.

Abe, amid tumbling public support, has also been grilled over his responsibility for selecting Tomomi Inada as the defense minister.

Calls have been rife from the opposition party for her to resign to account for a number of scandals and gaffes related to her.

She is currently embroiled in a scandal involving the alleged cover-up of logs containing the activities of Japanese troops in what potentially was a controversial U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Abe had until recently been looking at becoming Japan's longest-serving prime minister by winning a third three-year term when his current tenure ends in September 2018.

However, with intensifying wrangling within the LDP's factions caused by the party's woeful election performances, high-profile scandals and the public's rapidly waning support, this goal has become severely blurred, political watchers have said.