The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is already showing signs of arrogance and carelessness in the ordinary session of the Diet that began Jan. 22.
During questioning by an opposition legislator about the spate of incidents involving U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa Prefecture, a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office, Fumiaki Matsumoto, heckled the lawmaker by calling out, "So how many people have died in the incidents?" Matsumoto was subsequently ousted from his position, in the form of a resignation from his vice-ministerial post.
Not only was the comment inconsiderate toward Okinawa residents who are tormented by the risk of being embroiled in a U.S. military incident, Matsumoto was implying that as long as there were no casualties, the current state of affairs was acceptable. His remark cannot be swept aside as a simple gaffe.
The prime minister has repeatedly stated that he would put all his efforts into reducing the burden of U.S. military bases shouldered by Okinawa Prefecture. What's unfortunate is that this attitude is not shared by the entire administration.
At a study session held by junior Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers three years ago, the two main daily newspapers published in Okinawa came under attack, with the writer invited as a lecturer for the session enthusiastically stating that the two papers "must be crushed." Behind the refusal to confront the pain of hosting military bases and the attempt to suppress any criticism of the administration is the same attitude that allowed Matsumoto to make his recent remark.
The Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago is in the midst of a mayoral race, with voting set for Feb. 4. A major point of contention in the election is the construction of a U.S. military base in the city's Henoko district, to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefectural city of Ginowan.
Following Matsumoto's heckling incident, Abe expressed remorse, saying, "I would like to deeply apologize to the people of Okinawa and all of Japan." Matsumoto's swift ouster and the prime minister's relative humility can be interpreted as moves to curb the incident's impact on the Nago mayoral election.
The forced attempts by the government and the ruling parties to "put out the fire" that is the scandal surrounding the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen have also been very obvious.
In the ordinary session of the Diet last year, Nobuhisa Sagawa, then the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau chief, told the Diet that the bureau had never presented the school operator with a specific price for the land, and that it had discarded all records relating to the negotiations.
However, freedom-of-information requests filed by the Mainichi Shimbun and other organizations uncovered the existence of internal documents exchanged among officials within the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau, which was in charge of the negotiations with Moritomo -- revelations that point to suspicions that Sagawa had given false testimony to the Diet. The Finance Ministry apparently submitted the documents to the Board of Audit of Japan in November last year, just one day before the Board of Audit submitted a report to the Diet.
To get to the bottom of the scandal, Sagawa must be summoned to the Diet, but not only has the ruling coalition refused to allow that to happen, Sagawa has not given any press conferences since he was promoted to the head of the National Tax Agency in July of last year.
In response to questions in the Diet, Finance Minister Taro Aso did not hide the fact that the government, as an organization, was protecting Sagawa. "I have been told that he did not hold a press conference (when he was given his new appointment) because there was so much interest in issues not under the jurisdiction of the National Tax Agency," he said.
Opposition parties have sought Sagawa's removal from his new position, but the prime minister dismissed such demands, saying he had put the right person in the right job.
It's likely that avoiding the opposition's pursuit of the Moritomo scandal is the reason for the great pains to which the ruling parties -- using their sheer numbers -- have gone to reduce the amount of time given to opposition parties to ask questions in the Diet. Abe's promise to be "thorough and humble" in shedding light on the scandal has proven empty.