Abe dominates despite another scandal

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, accompanied by his wife Akie, poses for photos at a cherry blossom party he hosted in Tokyo, Japan, 13 April 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Tomoko Hagimoto).

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

The cherry blossom viewing party scandal has undermined the popularity of the Shinzo Abe cabinet and reduced public trust in the Prime Minister and Japanese democracy more generally. The sakura party scandal represents an example of what Japanese scholar Koichi Nakano describes as the Abe government ‘appropriating the state’ (kokka wo shibutsuka) — using public resources for private political advantage.

Tax money was appropriated for Abe’s personal political gain given the large number of his constituents invited to the sakura party and the massively subsidised pre-event dinner. The scandal also mirrors the previous Moritomo and Kake scandals in that those connected to Abe received special treatment from the government.

Prime Minister Abe has survived repeated scandals because he and his office (Kantei) have successfully tamed both the bureaucracy and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Kantei has tamed the bureaucracy by politicising it. The employment prospects of senior officials are dependent on the good will of the Prime Minister’s Office. Bureaucrats, including officials directly serving the Kantei in the Cabinet Office and Cabinet Secretariat, have become complicit and even active players in the scandals that have periodically engulfed the Abe administration.

When it comes to the cherry blossom viewing party, the Cabinet Office was complicit in protecting Abe by destroying official documents requested by the opposition. The documents would have revealed exactly how many guests were invited, who they were and who invited them. There was a similar lack of transparency over the party’s total cost and who bore it, as well as an administrative failure to stop the practice of spending much more money than was originally budgeted.

The possibility that Abe’s political support organisation (koenkai) bore some of the cost of the pre-event buffet …continue reading