The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s sense of crisis appears to be somewhat underdeveloped, all things considered.
The government is beset by a major scandal, namely the Finance Ministry doctoring official documents related to the sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie. Amid this furor and tough questions for the Abe administration and ruling parties over their responsibility for the affair, the LDP held its annual convention.
Party leader Abe began his convention address with an apology to the Japanese people, stating, "Ultimately, responsibility for the government administration as a whole lies with me, the prime minister." What concerns us, however, was the single phrase, "Why has this kind of thing happened?" Abe has used similar wording many times during Diet discussion while promising to get to the bottom of the Moritomo affair and prevent anything similar from happening again -- an apparent effort to soften the scandal's harder edges.
Perhaps Abe keeps asking "why, why, why" because he wishes to emphasize that he personally has nothing to do with the doctoring of the documents. However, it is implausible that figures in charge at the Financial Bureau -- the Finance Ministry body thought to have carried out the series of deletions and alterations to the land deal documents -- were not thinking of Akie's connection to Moritomo or the prime minister's Diet statements on the scandal. And the prime minister cannot be allowed to just stay on the sidelines.
While stating that he will "fulfill my responsibility as the head of the administration," Abe has left the entire matter to an internal Finance Ministry investigation, apparently uninterested in truly grappling with the scandal himself and drawing the ire of the Japanese people in the process.
The prime minister's response to the Moritomo document debacle has also stoked smoldering dissatisfaction within the LDP's ranks. Nevertheless, there were no blatant attacks on Abe at the party convention. The closest thing to criticism of the prime minister was the day before at the meeting of local party secretaries-general, where the representative from Osaka Prefecture -- where Moritomo Gakuen is based -- requested they "look at the issue from the perspective of the people, not in terms of the logic of the party."
Hopeful remarks can be heard about how, given time, the public backlash against the administration would subside.
Abe ended his convention speech by saying that "the time to tackle constitutional revision, which the party has sought since its formation, has finally arrived," displaying his determination to insert the existence of the Self-Defence Forces into the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9.
The LDP leader likely thought he could use the party convention to boost momentum for constitutional amendment discussions in the Diet. However, the mutual trust among ruling and opposition parties needed to launch such debate has already been destroyed. The opposition, which has assailed the government over the Moritomo document doctoring scandal, is in no state to enter talks on Japan's supreme law. There is a widening gap between the actual political situation and the prime minister's obvious desire to sprint through the constitutional change process.
The text of the LDP's revision proposals arrived a half-baked mess just in time for the party convention. Junior coalition partner Komeito has distanced itself from their content, and during his guest address to the LDP faithful, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi took a sideways stab at the initiative, saying that recovering the people's trust should be the first priority.
Democratic politics cannot stand without trust between the people in government and the people of the nation. The LDP must open its eyes to this the heaviest responsibility it now bears as the party in power.