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Editorial: Abe's sincerity pledge over Kake favoritism affair fails to convince

The Diet session was brought to an abrupt close before needed discussion on a vital issue can take place, and only after that did the prime minister tell us, "I'll soon explain about that issue sincerely." That leaves us in a tough spot.

We speak, of course, about the June 19 news conference held by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, dogged by suspicions of favoritism over an application to open a new veterinary school by Kake Educational Institution, headed by close Abe friend Kotaro Kake. Abe's words -- delivered just after the regular Diet session ended -- were contrite, admitting that the government's handling of the affair had "invited public distrust." However, his stance on the two greatest drags on that public trust -- the Kake vet school scandal and the passage of the so called "anti-conspiracy" bill -- appeared to be unchanged.

Abe's performance holds no hope that he will suddenly cease his bulldoze-all-opposition brand of politicking.

Regarding his own comments during Diet debate, Abe said, "My stance of making strong verbal rebuttals ended up giving a boost to matters beyond the scope of policy debate." However, the questions posed to him by the opposition, according to Abe, were all mere attempts at "impression manipulation." In other words, to the prime minister, the queries themselves were false.

The education ministry's inquiry into the Kake affair has taken a few sharp turns already, and Abe admitted the drawn-out drama has damaged public faith in the government. However, regarding the Kake vet school plan itself, all Abe would say is that "advancing bedrock regulatory reform is my intention as prime minister," referencing the school's proposed placement in a national strategic special economic zone in Ehime Prefecture.

Abe's attempt to project a lower profile -- in contrast with a hitherto combative attitude in Diet debate -- is likely a direct response to his Cabinet's rash of bad polling numbers in recent opinion surveys by news media outlets. Results of the last Mainichi Shimbun survey published on June 19 showed the prime minister's administration had a support rate of 36 percent -- a 10-point drop from May.

So why has Cabinet support withered so quickly now, while the Moritomo Gakuen scandal in the spring barely made a dent in its poll numbers? Perhaps because many voters felt that the Abe administration's authoritarian political style had gone one step too far in the interim.

Not only was debate on the anti-conspiracy legislation obviously insufficient, the Abe administration went as far as to abbreviate the roll call vote on the legislation in the judicial affairs committee of the House of Councillors -- an unusual step, undertaken to guarantee the bill's passage during the last session. It is likely this coercive attitude sparked public opposition.

Meanwhile, it is perfectly natural that most of the Mainichi survey respondents found the government's explanations of the Kake inquiry "unconvincing."

Until now, the largest opposition Democratic Party's long slump had helped keep the Abe government's poll numbers high. However, it appears that this also encouraged the prime minister and ruling parties to become arrogant.

About the Kake affair, Abe stated on June 20, "I will fulfill my responsibility to give a sincere explanation whenever necessary." In that case, he should direct the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to summon relevant witnesses to the Diet to give sworn testimony on the case, including former education Vice Minister Kihei Maekawa -- the ex-bureaucrat who came forward last month to declare that vital documents in the Kake affair were genuine. That would be the first step in resolving "public distrust."

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