Japan parties trade barbs over scandals

Japan parties trade barbs over scandals

The ruling and opposition parties are exchanging fierce criticism as money-and-politics scandals have surfaced on both sides.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to apologise again for the recent resignations of two female Cabinet members at a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

"I feel very badly toward the public," Abe said. "I'm fully aware the responsibility falls on me because I appointed them."

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima had to step down soon after their appointments, but money-and-politics scandals have also surfaced regarding Yoichi Miyazawa, who succeeded Obuchi, and Defence Minister Akinori Eto.

"I told them to explain themselves, and both Defence Minister Eto and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Miyazawa have provided sincere explanations," Abe said at the meeting.

"I will do my utmost to resolve the mounting issues [of Japan]. There should not be any delay in politics," the prime minister added.

Abe made the statements in reply to questions from Diet members, including Liberal Democratic Party of Japan member Takeo Kawamura and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Edano.

It was ironic, however for Edano to question Abe over money-and-politics scandals, as it was learned Tuesday that Edano's political organisation failed to report about ¥2.4 million in revenue related to the organisation's New Year party in its 2011 political funds report.

Before questioning Abe, Edano therefore said, "I am ashamed to say this, but there was an omission [in my political funds report]. I took steps yesterday to correct it."

"It was a careless mistake," Edano said Wednesday, adding that he had not violated the law.

The DPJ has been grilling the Abe administration over the money-and-politics scandals, especially targeting new Cabinet members. Edano said Saturday, "They told us it was simply a clerical mistake, but we can't just say, 'OK, we understand.'"

Upon meeting lawmakers close to him on Wednesday at LDP headquarters, Abe said, "Now that the issue about Edano has come to light, I hope [the DPJ] will just say, 'Cease fire!' If [the recent scandals] develop into smear campaigns targeting each other, it will look ugly to the public."

The LDP plans to hold a training workshop on accounting practices for secretaries and other staff of its lawmakers. Some from the party insist that checks by certified public accountants should be drastically strengthened.

LDP Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki attended a meeting with first-time Diet members on Wednesday and told them: "We need to have your office staff study the Political Funds Control Law to develop eyes that can distinguish proper spending."

A mid-career lawmaker with the LDP said, "I couldn't bear it if I were attacked for my responsibility for a simple mistake. I guess [the current law] has no flexibility."

This lawmaker and some other members of the party feel it would be more realistic to ease the regulations while maintaining a core of transparency regarding political funds.

Concerning the issue that Miyazawa received political donations from a company majority-owned by foreign nationals, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference on Wednesday: "We politicians are suffering most over the issue of political donations by foreign nationals.

Of course we have to pay full attention when we receive [donations], and strive to determine if they are from foreign nationals. But it's difficult to examine every detail before accepting them."

Suga also said he was considering a review of the law together with opposition parties.

The DPJ does not plan to ease its grilling of Cabinet members, but a senior LDP member said, "If this accusation game between ruling parties and opposition parties continues, it could cause stagnation in national politics."

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