By Pratheeksha Gopinath
The political career of Shinzo Abe hits a rocky patch, as allegations of his involvement in a cronyism scandal surface. The Japanese Prime Minister, along with his wife Akie Abe, was under the radar for an alleged involvement in a cut-price land deal. The controversy deepened on Monday, as the Finance Ministry officials admitted to a tampering of the documents indicating the first lady’s involvement.
The Cronyism Scandal
Abe and his wife faced the ire of the public as reports of them favouring two school operators surfaced last year. The first scandal implied their direct involvement in the land-discount deal of a new school project by the nationalist Moritomo Gakuen group. Yasunori Kagoike, president of the Moritomo Gakuen group, is a close associate of Shinzo Abe as they both have held links with Nippon Kaigi, a nationalist lobby group that intends to rewrite the US-authored pacifist constitution. The second scandal revolved around Abe’s approval to a veterinary department of a private university run by his close associate Kotaro Kake. Abe’s wife was accused of making a secret donation of 1 million yen (£7,100) to an ultra-nationalist kindergarten belonging to the Moritomo Gakuen group, on behalf of her husband. The kindergarten had been in the public eye for its staunch nationalist educational policies. The school’s policy compelled its pupils to bow down before the portraits of the imperial family, to recite the national anthem on a daily basis and to learn the 1890 imperial rescript on education that emphasised upon the value of sacrifice for the sake of the nation.
Mrs Abe who was supposed to head the school as the honorary principal had to retract her decision in the wake of the scandal. The kindergarten operator testified to the parliament of the secret donation. Kagoike admitted to having received an 85% discount on the land earmarked for its new school in Osaka. He claimed to have received the donation in an envelope from Mrs Abe on the day she had visited the school to address the students. He indicated towards a strong political influence behind his receiving of the land at just one-seventh of the appraised value. Kagoike, in spite of having had received a favourable discount, turned against Mr Abe in the fear of being framed as `the scapegoat’ in the cronyism scandal. He also held Abe accountable for having withdrawn his support for the educational philosophies of the school.
Tampering of evidence
The Finance Ministry on Monday admitted having tampered with the documents relating to the land-discount deal. Official papers indicating the Prime Minister’s involvement in the scandal were said to have been changed, removing any references to the first lady. The submitted papers had been made to omit the details that clearly showed the affinity of Aike with the school. Mrs Abe was clearly moved to tears by the school’s educational policy and had earnestly backed the land deal involving the new school project. The Finance Ministry accepted to have had allowed a reduction in the price of the land from 956m yen to 134m yen, given the huge costs involved in removing the industrial waste from the land. However, with the rising confusions, the Ministry has decided upon buying the block of land back.
Repercussions on Abe’s political career
Abe, who had held an unassailable position as the party leader of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), found his power crumbling in the aftermath of the controversy. The LDP had even mended its rules to facilitate Abe’s heading of the party for the third consecutive term. Abe who had returned to the Prime Ministership four and a half years ago was seen as a force to be reckoned with. He intended to revise the war-renouncing constitution of Japan. Enjoying a strong support base, Abe’s position was unshakeable. However, with the deepening controversies, he has gradually begun to lose his credibility. With strong evidence of having favoured two school operators, Abe seems to be losing political ground. Political analysts have described Abe’s diminishing popularity as of reaching the `death zone’ levels. Rarely have political leaders been able to recover from a support as low as a staggering 20%. It would require a lot of doing on the part of Abe to change this downward trend of support.
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