The first half of the ongoing regular Diet session, in which attention was focused on a scandal involving the sale of state-owned land to a school operator, highlighted the fragileness of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe although he remains predominant.
The Diet approved the fiscal 2017 state budget on March 27 at a relatively early stage of the session, as the Abe government had aimed.
However, the Abe administration may regard the Diet's summoning of Yasunori Kagoike, head of the Osaka-based Moritomo Gakuen school corporation to testify under oath over the land deal, as a mistake.
Kagoike had told opposition legislators that he had received a 1 million yen donation from the prime minister's wife, Akie Abe, which prompted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to choose to summon Kagoike, criticizing the school operator for defaming the prime minister. However, whether Kagoike actually received the donation from the first lady was not clarified through his testimony.
Additionally, the content of a fax message that a government official assigned as an aide to Akie Abe had sent to Kagoike also came to light. The testimony has thus ended up raising fresh questions as to whether the prime minister's wife was involved in a series of negotiations between the government and Kagoike over the land deal.
It has been pointed out that Prime Minister Abe, who came back to power in late 2012, is skillful in crisis management as is shown by the fact that he has swiftly dismissed scandal-hit Cabinet ministers.
However, the latest scandal is related to the prime minister himself and his wife. No one within the administration apparently can give advice to Abe who is predominant in the political world, and the prime minister is given full discretion to determine the content of answers to questions in the Diet and how to respond to various issues. This is the point where the Abe administration is fragile.
Apart from the prime minister, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada is also in hot water over the scandal. She has been forced to correct her statements and apologize over the Moritomo Gakuen case.
Moreover, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso has told a House of Councillors Budget Committee session that a question posed by an opposition legislator was "arrogant." Aso was subsequently warned by the panel chairman that his comment went too far. Aso's remark apparently reflects the government's irritation at the fact that problems involving the case cannot be resolved.
It is only natural for opposition parties to continue grilling the government over the scandal that is far from being clarified.
An anti-conspiracy bill will be a major point of contention in the latter half of the current Diet session. However, Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, a Cabinet member in charge of the bill, has made inconsistent statements on the issue during past deliberations. Whether he can convince legislators and the general public of the need for the legislation will be a major source of concern for the Abe government.
Diet deliberations on the budget were far from sufficient. The legislature needs to continue paying close attention to whether debt-ridden national finances are sustainable and whether policy measures incorporated in the budget will truly lead to economic recovery.