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Editorial: PM Abe deserves criticism for failing to answer key issues at plenary session

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's responses to questions by party leaders at a plenary session of the House of Representatives on Jan. 22 leave us wondering why he is so reluctant to squarely face key points of contention.

When facing questions on a scandal relating to the annual cherry blossom-viewing parties he hosted and other issues, Abe hardly budged from the responses he gave in Diet deliberations in December 2019. His position is far from convincing.

It seems the prime minister mistakenly thinks that by reiterating his position he can say he has provided the careful and detailed explanations he is supposed to present to the legislature and the public

On Jan. 22, the leaders and other high-ranking members of the ruling and opposition parties asked questions about a policy speech that Prime Minister Abe delivered at the outset of this year's regular Diet session on Jan. 20. A similar session took place in the House of Councillors on Jan. 23.

It is only natural that Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), began his questions by referring to a scandal over the controversial cherry blossom-viewing parties -- of which the prime minister made no mention in his speech.

It has come to light that a number of official documents on the sakura functions that the government claimed had been discarded, were actually retained. The revelations have raised questions over whether lists of invitees to these events, which form a key to getting to the bottom of the scandal, have really been disposed of as the government has claimed.

The prime minister, however, merely stated that the lists of those invited to the parties were discarded immediately afterwards, citing the need to protect personal information on attendees, and refused to re-investigate the matter.

The annual parties are controversial because many members of Abe's supporting organization in his home constituency in the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi were invited to the functions. Also, the former head of a company that went under after engaging in a malicious pyramid marketing scheme allegedly received an invitation to the 2015 party.

Prime Minister Abe emphasized that the government has punished bureaucrats who failed to record the relevant documents in managing and discarding them as is required by legislation. However, he has never sincerely clarified his responsibility over the matter as head of the executive branch.

Suspicions remain over whether Prime Minister Abe used the taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing parties for his private purposes by inviting a large number of people connected to him and his wife Akie. Questions have also been raised over whether the Cabinet Office provided unreasonable explanations to defend the prime minister. This is the core of the scandal.

Prime Minister Abe appears increasingly confident that he is in no way responsible for the matter.

Similar scenes played out in connection with a bribery case pertaining to casino-related projects. Just as Edano pointed out in his Diet interpellations, the incident has shed light on a structure in which casinos could give rise to corruption.

However, the prime minister was reluctant to squarely face this fundamental problem and instead said, "I will refrain from elaborating on the matter" on the grounds that the case is under investigation.

Edano presented his party's policy options, including one on the economy focusing on the distribution of wealth, which differ from policies taken by the Abe government. Nonetheless, the prime minister merely talked about the achievements of the Abenomics economic policy mix promoted by his administration.

When Edano pointed out that the real wage index was on a recovery path under the previous administration led by the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the prime minister made the counterargument that deflation progressed under the DPJ-led government. Abe went on to say that the DPJ-led government was "proud of deflation."

A question-and-answer session like this cannot be described as a discussion. The prime minister, who has failed to answer key points in Diet questions, is responsible for the deterioration of Diet debate.

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