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Local assembly members in Abe's hometown had 'quotas' for sakura party, invited supporters

This photo taken on April 13, 2019, shows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, posing with members of the Japanese idol group Momoiro Clover Z, who were invited to the annual cherry blossom-viewing party, in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)
This image shows the participation form for the cherry blossom-viewing party, thought to have been distributed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office. (Image partially modified)
This image shows the participation form for the cherry blossom-viewing party, thought to have been distributed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office. (Image partially modified)

Several local assembly members affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hometown invited their supporters to an annual taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the premier using invitations sent in the name of Abe's office, the Mainichi Shimbun has found.

The assembly members in Abe's home city of Shimonoseki in the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi said they were able to freely copy and distribute application forms to attend the party, and that Abe's office did not place an upper limit on the number of participants. Other local assembly members with no affiliation with the LDP did not receive copies of the invitations.

The finding has raised suspicions that the cherry blossom-viewing party, ostensibly an event to welcome people recognized for distinguished services in various fields, had been used for political purposes to solidify support for the LDP.

It has already emerged that Cabinet ministers and Diet members were able to hand out invitations, but the latest finding marks the first time that a "quota" for local assembly members has come to light. It is believed this system played a part in the number of party participants soaring in recent years.

A form for the event that the Mainichi Shimbun obtained was titled "Application for participation in 'cherry blossom-viewing party' hosted by the Cabinet Office." The document was distributed together with an outline of the party. It had a space for the invited person to write their name, as well as anyone who invited them. It stated, "If the person attending is ... an acquaintance or friend, then please apply on a separate form. (Please copy and use this form)."

One local assembly member affiliated with the LDP reported being able to obtain the form through a faction close to Prime Minister Abe and make as many copies as were required. There was no upper limit on the number of participants. The local assembly member said the process was to "just fill it in and take it to the office." This system was apparently implemented within the past few years and also applied to the party this past April.

A separate assembly member affiliated with the LDP said that they had actually invited their own supporters more than once. It was unclear how Abe's office handled the applications, but this assembly member commented, "I've never been turned down before."

In contrast, several assembly members not affiliated with the LDP, including those belonging to the Japanese Communist Party and the LDP's coalition partner Komeito, said they had never received the application forms before. One opposition member of the assembly commented, "The LDP is using a public event to solidify its own support."

The Mainichi Shimbun sent a list of questions to Abe's office on this point, but as of 5 p.m. on Nov. 18, had not received a response.

(Japanese original by Rokuhei Sato, Shimonoseki Bureau; and Masanori Hirakawa and Tadashi Sano, News Department, Kyushu Head Office)

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