Abe fights scandals on two fronts

TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now in a rare fifth year as leader, is battling scandals on two separate fronts as questions swirl about his ties to a nationalist school involved in a murky land deal, while his defence minister faces calls to resign.

The scandals, which analysts say present the most serious crisis for Mr Abe since he returned to office in 2012, appear likely to further erode his support rates, now at about 50 per cent. They are also denting his image as an invincible leader with a shot at becoming Japan's longest-serving premier, although so far most experts are betting he can survive.

Mr Abe's term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president ends next year. But a rule change means he can run for a third three-year term, allowing him to remain premier as long as the LDP stays in power.

In the latest twist to the ballooning school scandal, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday that Mr Abe's wife, Akie, had not personally donated money to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator in Osaka.The comments came after opposition lawmakers said the school principal Yasunori Kagoike told them Mrs Abe had donated 1 million yen (S$12,400) in 2015. Mrs Abe had been set to become honorary head of the school but cut her ties after the scandal broke.

"Unless the opposition handles this poorly... Abe has a lot to lose, potentially," said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano. "It has been because of a lack of alternatives that Abe was able to survive, but people are starting to wonder if he is invincible."

Mr Abe is also suffering from a separate affair plaguing his defence minister and political protege, Ms Tomomi Inada, whom opposition lawmakers have called on to resign.

Ms Inada on Thursday launched a special probe after the media reported that defence officials tried to hide logs showing a worsening security situation in South Sudan, where Japanese troops are taking part in a United Nations-led peace- keeping operation. The government said last week that Japanese troops would end their controversial mission around the end of May, but denied that security conditions affected that decision.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Abe fights scandals on two fronts'. Print Edition | Subscribe