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Abe 'immature' to raise voice against protesting voters in Akihabara: expert

Abe raises his voice in response to calls for him to quit in front of JR Akihabara Station in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on the afternoon of July 1, 2017. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to provide a "careful explanation" to the public in the wake of the Kake Educational Institution and Moritomo Gakuen scandals that have stirred up suspicions of favoritism. However, there did not appear to be room for such explanations when Abe was confronted by chants to step down during a campaign stop for the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. Instead, he criticized protesting voters for interrupting the campaign, and with a raised voice said, "We cannot lose to people like this."

Abe, who has scored overwhelming victories in national elections, has viewed Tokyo's Akihabara district as a "sacred" site where his supporters can be seen waving "Hinomaru" national flags. But July 1, the day of his campaign stop, was different. A group holding up a banner saying "Quit, Abe" gathered in front of Akihabara Station, creating a tense atmosphere before the prime minister spoke. When Abe took the microphone, calls of "Go home" arose, and then a large crowd of people started chanting "Quit." Pointing from the top of a campaign car, Abe criticized the voters.

Abe told the Akihabara gathering that his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would never interrupt a speech. However, the prime minister himself has been heard jeering at opposition lawmakers in the Diet and making provocative remarks. During a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration on June 5, Abe asked opposition lawmakers to stop their taunts about the Kake Educational Institution scandal. Yet just 10 minutes later, when the opposition was posing a question, he jeered, "Stop making all those irresponsible remarks," incurring a warning from the head of the committee.

A banner reading, "Quit, Abe" is held up by a crowd in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. (Mainichi)

It is unusual for Abe to raise his voice against voters during a campaign stop. Masahito Tadano, a constitutional law professor at Hitotsubashi University, commented, "Prime Minister Abe sometimes gets worked up when he is criticized, but this kind of thing is normally unthinkable."

Pointing out that the LDP had refused to convene an extraordinary Diet session to discuss the Kake Educational Institution scandal, among other issues, Tadano added, "He may be intending to wait until things cool down, but he can't shut out voters' criticism."

Junichi Takase, a professor at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies whose written works include analysis of politicians' statements, commented, "In the first place, going out into the streets on the day before the election when his Cabinet's support rating is declining was only making matters worse, and reacting to the crowd's jeers probably affected the results of the election. He's immature as a politician."

Blue LDP banners provide a screen between the prime minister and protesters. The yellow sign reads "Don't take the public for fools." (Mainichi)

On July 3, following the LDP's historic defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, Abe stated, "We want to reflect on what we have to reflect on, and move forward carefully with humility." Takase, however, pointed out, "In the future, unless he handles the administration with particular care, it will be difficult for him to rally the party together."

In a news conference the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who along with Abe has spoken of a "careful explanation," covered for the prime minster when a reporter suggested that Abe had made light of voters in Akihabara. Suga said there was absolutely no problem with what Abe had said, and added, "I'd say it was an extremely commonsensical remark."

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