Opposition Leaders Grill Abe Over Scandal

May 30, 2018 – Opposition leaders grilled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today in the first leaders’ Diet debate in a year and half over challenges his administration faces, including favoritism allegations leveled at him over a new veterinary school run by his longtime friend.

But the 45-minute one-on-one debate did not provide any new findings and its contents did not go beyond what has been discussed in the previous Diet sessions.

Abe has been dogged by allegations he used his influence in the approval process to open Japan’s first veterinary department in half a century in a special deregulation zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

In the first leaders’ debate since December 2016, Abe denied involvement, saying, “What’s important is whether the process was fair or not.”

Responding to questions from Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano, Abe said there was high demand for a new veterinary school, rejecting allegations his influence was needed for government approval.

Edano also took up the issue of a heavily discounted sale of state-owned land for an elementary school building project and demanded that Abe’s wife Akie, who became honorary principal of the school to be established, appear in parliament to testify whether she played any part in the deal.

On the economic front, Abe questioned U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to raise tariffs on imported vehicles to as much as 25 percent from 2.5 percent, a move that could hit the Japanese auto industry hard.

In his response to questions by Democratic Party for the People co-head Yuichiro Tamaki, Abe said, “It’s hard for Japan to understand and we cannot accept it.”

On diplomacy, Abe countered criticism by Tamaki that negotiations with Russia have not progressed over disputed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, and a postwar peace treaty.

Abe held a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last weekend in Moscow to discuss joint economic activities on the islets called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Sothern Kurils in Russia.

Abe said he spent a “substantial amount of time” with Putin on a peace treaty and cannot reveal what “strategy” Japan will employ.

Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii and Japan Innovation Party’s Toranosuke Katayama also took part in Wednesday’s one-on-one debates.

Japan introduced one-on-one leaders’ debates in the Diet in 2000, which were modeled after Britain’s Prime Minister’s Question Time. The ruling and opposition parties agreed in 2014 to hold them monthly, but far fewer have been held than initially planned.