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Editorial: Abe needs to show public his 'humility,' 'sincerity'

Following the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election in which the ruling bloc scored a landslide victory, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to run his government with less arrogance than in the past.

"The public will cast a more severe eye at us. All ruling coalition legislators must be fully aware of that. We must put our utmost efforts into the management of the administration more humbly and sincerely than ever," Abe told a news conference on Oct. 23, in his capacity as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

It should be welcomed if he is expressing his intention to avoid being arrogant despite the overwhelming victory of his LDP and carry out politics with the mindset of the general public.

However, he also made some questionable statements during the news conference.

One of those was about the favoritism scandal in which he has become embroiled, involving school operator Kake Educational Institution.

When asked whether he has gained sufficient understanding of his position on the issue from the public, the prime minister said, "I think people who watched Diet debate on the issue in full have understood my position to a greater extent." It was as if he were saying he has fulfilled his accountability and that the issue has been settled.

Prime Minister Abe has attached particular importance to statements that former Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato made during an out-of-session Diet meeting on the scandals the ex-governor attended as an unsworn witness.

With regard to suspicions that the government gave preferential treatment to the Kake institution, Kato said, "Some say it had been predetermined that Kake would be selected, but Kake Educational Institution was the only entity that made an offer as early as 12 years ago."

He was referring to the institution's plan to open a veterinary department of its Okayama University of Science in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari, an area designated as a national strategic special zone.

Abe apparently wants to use a statement which Kato made -- to the effect that "distorted government policy was rectified" in reference to the decision to allow the establishment of a veterinary school in an area designated as a national strategy special zone -- to deny the prime minister's involvement in the Kake scandal.

However, the focal point in this case is whether the process of selecting the operator of a new veterinary school in a national strategic special zone was fair, as the head of the Kake institution is a close friend of Abe. Suspicions have arisen that either the prime minister or his aides gave instructions over the selection process, or bureaucrats surmised the prime minister's intentions in the decision.

Prime Minister Abe knows that Kato, who left the position of governor seven years ago when his third four-year term expired, was not directly involved in the selection process. Therefore, Prime Minister Abe cannot evade criticism that he attempted to switch the focus of the argument by claiming that Kato's remarks prove his own innocence.

The prime minister also made questionable statements when he mentioned constitutional revisions at the same press conference.

In his campaign speeches, the prime minister made hardly any public calls to support his intention to amend the postwar Constitution. When a reporter pointed that out at the news conference, Abe said, "We're supposed to talk about policy measures that are closely related to people's livelihoods in respective local communities during stump speeches."

However, the LDP included constitutional revisions in its campaign pledge as a key issue, and its proposal to add a paragraph stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to war-renouncing Article 9 was originally made by the prime minister himself this past May.

At the news conference, Prime Minister Abe said, "It's not the Diet but a national referendum that determines (revisions on) the Constitution."

It is true that any amendments to the supreme law are based on a national referendum. However, the prime minister appears to believe that specific discussions on constitutional reform are unnecessary during election campaigning.

The Diet is solely authorized to initiate constitutional amendments. Therefore, it is important for candidates in Diet elections to express their views on the Constitution as an index based on which voters decide whom they should vote for.

If Prime Minister Abe, who leads the LDP, is to continue to avoid expressing his views on constitutional reform, it would run counter to his desire to deepen public understanding of the issue.

The LDP won three consecutive lower house elections for the first time in nearly half a century. In response, Abe proudly said, "This is the first time that the LDP has won three general elections in a row under the same leader in the party's 60-year-plus history." This comment should be viewed as an expression of his strong confidence that he will win the next LDP leadership election scheduled for autumn 2018.

Still, questions remain as to whether the prime minister has won such a strong public mandate.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), a liberal party which has emerged as the largest opposition party in the lower house following the election, won approximately 11.07 million votes in the proportional representation blocs, while the conservative opposition Party of Hope captured some 9.66 million votes. If combined, the number of votes these two major opposition parties gained surpasses the some 18.52 million votes won by the LDP.

Undoubtedly, the LDP's overwhelming victory owes much to a split in opposition forces largely into the CDP and the Party of Hope. Candidates in the opposition camp won in only about 20 percent of single-seat constituencies where the ruling coalition, the CDP and the Party of Hope had a three-way battle.

In short, the LDP garnered fewer votes than opposition parties in the proportional representation blocs and won in many single-seat electoral districts due to a split in opposition forces.

Kyodo News exit polls show that 51 percent of voters surveyed said they do not trust the prime minister, above the 44 percent who said they believe in him.

One cannot help but wonder what Prime Minister Abe meant by saying "humility" and "sincerity."

He declined to clarify when he will convene an extraordinary Diet session while detailing his diplomatic schedule. He remains passive about explaining the Kake scandal, saying, "If you ask me questions about the matter, I'll provide a detailed explanation."

Prime Minister Abe said the LDP will try to form a consensus with other political parties on constitutional amendment, but added, "Since it's a political matter, we can't necessarily gain understanding from everybody."

The prime minister should do more than just mention "humility" and "sincerity." He needs to put these words into action.

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