Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged his Cabinet ministers Tuesday to close ranks as they met for the first time since farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka’s suicide the day before.
“I am painfully aware of the death of minister Matsuoka halfway (in his life and career), but I urge you all, ministers, for your cooperation in working in unity to address state affairs,” Abe was quoted by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki as saying after the Cabinet observed a minute of silence at the onset of the morning meeting.
The ministers were believed to have discussed how to continue handling government and Diet affairs. Executives of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to which House of Representatives member Matsuoka belonged, also met to exchange opinions on similar issues.
Asked to comment on whether the suicide of Matsuoka, who was embroiled in a political funds scandal, would raise public distrust in politics, Shiozaki reiterated his belief that Matsuoka had repeatedly explained himself in Diet deliberations in connection with the scandal.
“Minister Matsuoka’s suicide is truly regrettable,” Shiozaki, the top government spokesman, told a news conference after the Cabinet meeting, indicating Matsuoka must have been under a heavy burden.
Shiozaki dismissed calls for the government to investigate the cause behind Matsuoka’s death, particularly whether it was related to the funds scandal.
“I don’t think we are in the position to say this and that about someone’s life,” he said.
Shiozaki also declined comment on the suicide notes found in Matsuoka’s residence, citing privacy, and said the government has no intention to make public their contents, including those addressed to the prime minister and to the public.
According to police, six suicide notes in sealed envelops addressed to individuals, including Abe, Matsuoka’s secretary, and other politicians and bureaucrats, were found on his desk.
In addition, two separate unsealed notes were found, including one addressed to the Japanese people and his supporters that said, “I’m sorry for causing trouble.”
Matsuoka wrote on the other unsealed note: “I have to blame myself (for the problems),” and “My wife (Hatsumi) knows all of the details well. She will confirm matters, so please do not search.”
Abe, who has indicated he will appoint Matsuoka’s successor soon, is expected to take into account the situation in and outside the LDP and issues affecting agricultural policy.
While Abe may want to minimize the reverberations within his administration, the scandal over questionable utility costs booked by Matsuoka’s fund management body remains unresolved.
This has given rise to predictions that Abe may be grilled over his handling of “politics and money” issues and his responsibility for appointing Matsuoka to the Cabinet post.
LDP members have begun saying Matsuoka’s suicide will undoubtedly affect the ruling bloc’s prospects in the July House of Councilors election.
On Monday, two major newspapers had reported a slide in the Abe Cabinet approval ratings, citing the Matsuoka scandal as part of the reason.
Speculation is rife that given these circumstances, Abe will try to stress his legislative achievements by driving other priority bills through the Diet before the current session ends June 23.
Mourners meanwhile began to pay their respects to Matsuoka in the morning at a funeral hall in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.
His casket left the hall around noon to be driven around the places he worked — the Diet building, the Lower House parliamentary office buildings, and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry — before being flown back to his native Kumamoto Prefecture in the afternoon.
Abe paid his respects outside the Prime Minister’s Official Residence as the motorcade carrying the casket passed.
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