Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday was given the third degree from opposition party lawmakers on his alleged involvement in an influence-peddling scandal.
He was accused to have used his influence to manipulate a government decision to benefit a close friend’s opening of a veterinary school in a special deregulated zone.
Speaking in a special session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Abe maintained that there was no favouritism shown to his friend Kotaro Kake who runs Kake Educational Institution, which is set to open a new veterinary department at a private university in Ehime Prefecture, in Japan’s northwestern Shikoku region.
In a bid to claw back some public support, Abe reversed an earlier party decision for him to not appear in parliament to be grilled by the opposition, as media polls have shown that the public’s mistrust in Abe has risen exponentially recently as he has yet to properly account to himself over the favouritism scandal.
The prime minister, who will reshuffle his cabinet early next month in a further bid to restore public support, conceded that he had been friends with Kake since they were students and sometimes dined together and treated each other to nights out.
Abe maintained however that Kake had never asked for any favours based on Abe’s position in politics and that he had not given any instructions personally on matters related to the veterinary department’s opening.
Following an opposition lawmaker holding up an enlarged print of a photograph in parliament showing Abe and Kake holding up wine glasses while facing the camera, Abe said, “There is a saying that one should never allow room for doubts. Since this is a matter involving a friend of mine, it is understandable that the people would look at it with suspicion.”
Abe, whose ruling party has suffered crushing defeats in recent elections, including in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Election and, more recently, in Sunday’s defeat to an opposition-backed former lawmaker who won the Sendai mayoral election, added later that his priority remained with the economy.
“The economy has been the administration’s top priority and it’s our job to create employment and raise wages,” he said.
Abe will attend a similar session in the House of Councillors on Tuesday. (GlobalTimes)