A political tug-of-war intensified Thursday as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on the opposition parties to stop attacking Cabinet ministers embroiled in funding scandals.
His No. 2 went so far as to suggest the prime minister might dissolve the Lower House if critics do not shut up and stop obstructing Diet sessions.
During Thursday’s budget committee session in the Lower House, Abe called on opposition lawmakers to stop calling out ministers and focus instead on “key policy issues” in the Diet.
“They have sincerely explained (what happened). It’s unproductive to argue about such things at the budget committee,” Abe said.
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki did not rule out dissolution of the Diet if the opposition continues to focus on funding improprieties linked to the ministers he installed.
“We’re in a tough situation and need a breakthrough. Yes, various opinions have come up,” Tanigaki told reporters Wednesday, when asked whether Abe might dissolve the Diet and call a snap election.
Tanigaki’s remark was widely perceived as a veiled blackmail threat because the fragmented opposition parties would have a hard time handling a sudden election.
The latest opinion polls show that support for Abe’s Cabinet, although dropping, is still in the 50 percent range, which is a comfortable level compared with past governments. This in the face of two high-profile resignations from ministers caught up in funding scandals.
They have found no common ground to cooperate on elections and have struggled to secure wide public support since the Democratic Party of Japan was ousted after leading the opposition to its historic first stint in power.
The prime minister has the power to dissolve the Lower House at any time, which is a strong political tool because it can be timed to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses, such as by choosing a moment when the parties are simply not ready to mount an effective campaign.
Opposition lawmakers, too, have been hit by apparent money scandals. On Wednesday, Democratic Party of Japan secretary-general Yukio Edano apologized for an omission of ¥2.4 million found in the income declaration of an affiliated support group. The money represented income from a 2011 New Year’s party and should have been included in the group’s annual fund report.
On Thursday daily Sankei Shimbun reported a significant discrepancy in the declared income and expenditure by a DPJ local chapter in Kyoto from a ticketed lecture session in 2010.
The chapter is headed by Tetsuro Fukuyama, the DPJ’s policy chief, who immediately protested the Sankei’s allegation. He said there was nothing illegal involved because although the meeting had received less money from attendees than it spent, the organizers had not offered participants meals, drinks or other financial benefits.
The newspaper alleged a clear parallel with the case of former trade and industry minister Yuko Obuchi, who resigned over allegations that a political support group had borne some of the costs of a live concert. Such a comparison is wrong, Fukuyama said.
“There is absolutely no problem under the election campaign law,” he said Thursday.