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Japan PM's office rejected science council candidates in 2016 under Abe: sources

Science Council of Japan President Takaaki Kajita, right, speaks to reporters regarding Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's rejection of some nominees to the council at its headquarters in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on Oct. 2, 2020. (Mainichi/Mirai Nagira)

TOKYO -- The prime minister's office in 2016 refused to appoint some scholars to the Science Council of Japan during the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned from several former senior council members.

    The revelation comes after it surfaced that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has rejected six candidates out of 105 recommended by the scientific organization, charged with providing nonpartisan advice to the government.

    Of the ex-senior members who accepted interviews with the Mainichi Shimbun, University of Tokyo professor emeritus and former council head Seigo Hirowatari provided accounts under his own name. According to him, after he stepped down from the council presidency, the organization needed to fill the seats of several members who had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, so the council proposed candidates to the prime minister's office. The latter, however, apparently rejected some of the recommendations and demanded that they be replaced. The scientific body did not comply with the office's request, and some council seats remained vacant.

    Hirowatari recalls that he felt a strong sense of crisis after learning about the intervention by the prime minister's office. Regarding the latest move by Prime Minister Suga, Hirowatari commented, "Something that should not have happened has happened. There was a warning sign (in 2016) and I thought at the time there would be a more dramatic incident in the future."

    Another ex-senior council member stated, "When we told the prime minister's office about the candidates, they reacted negatively to some scholars."

    On Suga's refusal to appoint six nominees this time, the government said on Oct. 1 that it was the first case of a prime minister not appointing those recommended by the council since the current system was introduced in fiscal 2004. A senior official at the prime minister's office told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Science council members are specially appointed civil servants. As we understood that they should not be given retroactive approval, we had been in contact (with the council) over the past few years. We had asked them to shortlist more than 105 people, but they gave us the exact number. We didn't (reject them) out of the blue."

    (Japanese original by Harum Kimoto, Integrated Digital News Center, and Jintaro Chikamatsu, City News Department)

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