State land minister Ichiro Tsukada stepped down on April 5 to take responsibility for remarks that could be construed as influence-peddling regarding a road construction project connecting the home prefectures of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso. His resignation is only natural. The problem is that Abe initially defended Tsukada saying, "I'd like him to fulfill his official duties."
Tsukada stepped down in the end apparently because his gaffe came during campaigning for nationwide local elections. In addition to public criticism, politicians within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were increasingly complaining that the party could not win the elections unless he stepped down. If the prime minister initially thought that Tsukada did not have to take responsibility and step down for his remarks, it is a sign that the Abe administration has become lax and arrogant due to the LDP's longstanding predominance in national politics.
As for why he chose to quit his position, Tsukada explained that he "made remarks that weren't factually correct and caused trouble." The prime minister also reiterated that what the state minister said was not true.
However, questions remain as to what part of his remarks, specifically, was factually incorrect. Tsukada said that that he "surmised" Abe and Aso's intentions in providing government-managed research funds for the road construction project. It seems that the prime minister and other top government officials are now aiming to settle the matter by concluding that was wrong.
In a speech, however, Tsukada quoted a senior official of the LDP's House of Councillors caucus, who visited him over the road project, as telling him, "You do understand why I came to see you, don't you?" and gave the details of their conversation. Do Abe and Tsukada mean to say that all this information was fabricated?
This is a matter involving a large-scale public works project whose total cost is expected to surpass 200 billion yen. The Diet should thoroughly investigate the allegations in an effort to get to the bottom of the issue.
Olympics minister Yoshitaka Sakurada, other members of the Abe Cabinet as well as other senior administration officials have come under fire for gaffes. Yet Abe has chosen to let most of them stay on.
Aso, who doubles as finance minister, was not held responsible for the Finance Ministry's doctoring of documents regarding a heavily discounted land sale to Moritomo Gakuen, an Osaka-based school operator that had been linked to Abe's wife.
On each occasion, Abe has said he wants these ministers and others to "fulfill their accountability." However, those responsible for the gaffes have hardly ever done so.
The prime minister and high-ranking officials of his government may be confident that such scandals will not affect Diet deliberations on bills and the budget draft because the ruling bloc has an overwhelming majority in the legislature. However, since the government has failed to fulfill its responsibility over these problems, levels of political ethics have only declined.
In his comments Tsukada used the controversial word "sontaku," a term referring to the act of surmising the thoughts of others, which has come under the spotlight in Japan amid public criticism of political ethics. The fact that Tsukada wielded the word without hesitation highlights the Abe government's lack of moderation. The administration should reflect on this.