Opposition parties set to grill new ministers in Abe's Cabinet

PHOTO: AFP

Opposition parties aim to grill four new Cabinet ministers as scandals involving them have surfaced just after the launch of the reshuffled Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hiroshi Moriyama has come under criticism over allegations that he was involved in problematic political donations. Allegations of other irregularities have been voiced against the other three.

The pattern of new ministers being targeted for criticism from opposition parties each time a Cabinet is reshuffled is likely to be repeated.

In addition to Moriyama, the opposition parties plan to grill Aiko Shimajiri, minister for Okinawa and northern territories affairs; Tsuyoshi Takagi, minister for reconstruction; and Taro Kono, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission. The questioning is expected to take place at budget committees.

Yukio Edano, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters Monday, "If the Cabinet includes ministers whose qualifications can be questioned, it's a matter of course that we'll question them."

It was revealed that a branch of the Liberal Democratic Party in Moriyama's constituency had received political donations from construction companies that had been banned from participating in bids for public works for designated companies because the firms were alleged to have been involved in bid-rigging.

Shimajiri is being criticised for giving calendars featuring her name and a photo of her face to supporters. Some claim that the action may constitute a kind of gift to voters in violation of the Public Offices Election Law.

On Monday, Shimajiri said, "They were posters for usual political activities and thus did not constitute a kind of gift prohibited by the election law."

Takagi was alleged by some weekly magazines to have stolen a woman's underwear in the past. On Friday, when reporters asked him to comment on the issue, he only replied, "I want to refrain from commenting."

Kono has temporarily cut off public access to his blog. In it, he had voiced objections to the government's policy of reactivating nuclear power plants. The opposition parties aim to question his stance, saying that it is inconsistent with the opinions in the Cabinet.

DPJ members are upbeat. A senior member of the DPJ's Diet Affairs Committee said: "Cabinet ministers this time are full of points that we can attack. It will be significant if we can force some of them to resign."

It is likely that both the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors will hold their budget committee debates while the Diet is closed. The sessions will be held in mid-November at the earliest.

The opposition parties plan to address not only issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement but also the allegations involving the ministers.

The government has reacted calmly. A source in the Prime Minister's Office said, "They're not problems that can result in resignations."

At a press conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, "As each of the ministers has explained, I believe there are no problems."

A senior government official said that the controversies are "within a range of our prediction."

However, in an extraordinary Diet session in autumn last year, then Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi, who attracted much public attention in a Cabinet reshuffle, was grilled over a money-and-politics problem.

Obuchi and then Justice Minister Midori Matsushima, who faced other allegations, were forced to resign from their Cabinet posts simultaneously.

Though the Prime Minister's Office initially did not regard the issues as serious problems, they resulted in the two resignations.

Therefore, the government will also closely watch developments this time, sources said.

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