National / Politics

Article 9 revision seen as politically risky amid Moritomo scandal

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The outlook for ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s deliberations on how best to amend the Constitution is now in doubt, with the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having been rocked by a scandal involving falsification of official documents, senior lawmakers suggested Wednesday.

Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister, said it is more important for the LDP to restore public trust, rather than speeding up the constitutional discussions.

“Before everything, (the party) should convince the public that the Moritomo issue is settled and then make winning back its trust its first priority,” Ishiba, who has made no secret of his desire to challenge Abe in the next presidential election in September, told reporters.

At a news conference Tuesday, Wataru Takeshita, chairman of the LDP’s General Council, also quoted Hiroyuki Hosoda, chief of the party’s panel on constitutional amendments, as saying it will not be able to form a consensus by March 25 and instead will only be able to show an “outline of viewpoints toward revision” during the party’s convention, slated for that date.

Hosoda’s comments come as the LDP and Abe’s government are struggling with the fallout from the latest development in the scandal in which the Finance Ministry finally admitted this week to altering 14 public documents on a heavily discounted land sale deal with school-operator Moritomo Gakuen.

The operator once had close ties with Akie Abe, the wife of the prime minister. Political observers say for now it would be too risky for the ruling party to advance Abe’s controversial plans to revise the war-renouncing Article 9.

Abe has claimed wording should be added to the article to formally legitimize the status of the Self-Defense Forces.

Takeshita also said the General Council will have a meeting on March 20 or 23 to discuss the panel’s draft of an outline for the viewpoints. This process could further complicate the LDP’s efforts to form a consensus on Abe’s constitutional proposals.

Some members of the council, the LDP’s top decision-making body, are said to be critical of Abe’s government. Those members include former Construction Minister Takeshi Noda and former administrative reform minister Seiichiro Murakami.

In a related move, the Finance Ministry admitted Wednesday an additional public document, produced on April 27, 2015, was altered after it was officially approved by ministry officials.

The document in question was a memo attached to a paper on a land lease contract with Moritomo Gakuen. The memo was deleted in June 2015, nearly two years before the 14 documents were altered.

The memo explained the reason why the ministry would not charge tax or public dues on the 2015 lease contract prior to the 2016 deal.

Information from Kyodo added

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