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Editorial: Abe belittling Diet over constitutional reform, school land scandal

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's outright disregard for the Diet over key issues such as constitutional amendment and the Moritomo Gakuen land deal scandal once again raises this fundamental question: What on earth does he think the Diet exists for?

At a House of Representatives Committee on the Budget session on May 8, Prime Minister Abe dodged a question about his thoughts on constitutional reform, saying, "Please read the Yomiuri Shimbun daily carefully about my idea on the issue as president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)."

The question and answer came after Abe unveiled a plan on May 3 to bring a new constitution into force in 2020 and add a new clause clearly defining the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), while upholding the first and second paragraphs of war-renouncing Article 9 of the current Constitution. His plan was revealed in an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun in its May 3 morning edition, as well as in a video message delivered to a gathering organized by a group advocating constitutional revision that same day.

It is only natural for legislators to question the prime minister about his intentions behind the abrupt proposal and the details of the new clause he envisages. However, Abe shunned the question and instead emphasized that his proposal was made in his capacity as LDP president and that his answers to the budget committee would be made solely as prime minister.

While it was the prime minister himself who has called for putting a new constitution into effect in 2020, when it comes to Diet sessions he leaves the matter in the hands of ruling and opposition parties by using different personas as prime minister and LDP president. Such an attitude is just too irresponsible and opportunistic as prime minister, and would even adversely affect "active discussion on the Constitution" that he aims for.

With regard to the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, the prime minister's responses to Diet questions about the shady land deal involving the Osaka-based school corporation were also appalling.

Former Moritomo Gakuen Chairman Yasunori Kagoike recently revealed that he had kept Prime Minister Abe's wife, Akie Abe, informed of the progress of negotiations with government agencies leading up to the corporation's heavily discounted purchase of a state-owned land lot. The testimony has raised further doubts about the prime minister's claim that he and his wife had nothing to do with the deal -- a claim for which he once staked his own fate in office by saying he would resign as prime minister and legislator if he or his wife were proven to have ever played a part in the scandal.

However, when a legislator of the largest opposition Democratic Party pointed out that, "Ms. Akie Abe is in a cozy relationship with the school corporation," the prime minister lost his temper and shot back by saying, "You'd better stop using such bad language," adding, "Such behavior has led to the (poor) approval rate for the Democratic Party."

Bad language aside, what the public wants to hear is the truth, not quibbles between the prime minister and opposition parties. Instead of accusing the opposition bloc of releasing Kagoike's testimony alone, the prime minister should urge his own wife to speak before the Diet and the media for rebuttal.

The Ministry of Finance is also to blame for making light of the Diet and the public it represents by submitting largely blackened out documents in response to an opposition request and reiterating that the procedures for the murky land sale were appropriate. The Diet cannot easily ignore such deception.

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