If one-on-one leaders' debates in the Diet are going to result in the prime minister evading hard questions directed at him, it is only going to reinforce people's views that such debates are pointless -- and that is of grave concern.
At a party leaders' debate held May 30 for the first time in approximately a year and a half, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is also the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) leader Yukio Edano, faced off. However, there were numerous occasions in which the prime minister wasted time by refusing to squarely answer the questions that were posed to him.
Prime Minister Abe may still lack an understanding of why the public's suspicions concerning favoritism scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution have not been resolved.
The prime minister's attitude toward the debates was clearly illustrated in a remark he made toward Edano: "If I am repeatedly asked the same questions, I have no choice but to continue giving the same answers."
Edano's question was based on newly exposed negotiation records between the Finance Ministry and school operator Moritomo Gakuen. But Abe continued to respond in the same way he has in the past, even venturing to say, "It's because you try to bring up myself and my wife as having been involved that the debate veers off point."
In regard to the alleged cronyism scandal involving Kake Educational Institution, chaired by the prime minister's close friend Kotaro Kake, a document released by the Ehime Prefectural Government included a detailed account of a meeting between Abe and Kake in which the two discussed the latter's plan to set up a veterinary school in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari. In response, the Kake organization released a statement saying that "an official responsible for communications with Ehime Prefecture mentioned a meeting that actually did not take place." These developments were also brought up in the party leadership debate.
If Kake Educational Institution's latest explanation were to be true, it would mean that the organization used the prime minister's name in hopes that it would increase the institution's chances of successfully establishing the school. But at the party leaders' debate, Prime Minister Abe, as he has said previously, stated, "The government will not comment on a matter regarding a private institution."
Weren't the falsification of public documents at the Finance Ministry and other alleged acts all carried out in an effort to protect the prime minister? As Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii pointed out, many members of the public must see that as the essence of the scandals.
On the one hand, Prime Minister Abe has stated that the doctoring of public records is "ultimately my responsibility." On the other hand, however, he has emphasized that there was a problem in the system that was in place for archiving documents. The person always using the straw-man argument is, as suspected, the prime minister himself.
As Abe has said, one-on-one debates between the prime minister and party leaders are a forum in which the nation's basic policies are debated. Co-leader of the newly formed Democratic Party for the People, Yuichiro Tamaki, must have been very mindful of that fact when he focused his questions on Japan-U.S. relations.
Asked by Tamaki whether the prime minister had been notified by U.S. President Donald Trump about U.S. plans to raise tariffs on automobile imports, Abe spoke in length about import restrictions by the U.S. on steel and aluminum. Ultimately, he concluded his response to Tamaki's question by saying, "I cannot talk about the details." What a waste of valuable time.
A total of just 45 minutes was allocated to party leader debates. A large-scale extension of this allotted time is indeed necessary. But of even more urgency is a change in the prime minister's attitude and approach toward these debates.