National / Politics

Assemblies from Niigata to Tottori criticize handling of Moritomo probe as threat to democracy

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Over a half dozen local governments have officially expressed concern with the way Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has handled revelations that the Finance Ministry deleted information on official documents related to the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, with the ruling party chapters worried about a voter backlash in next year’s nationwide prefectural, municipal, and town assembly elections.

As of Monday, seven prefectural and municipal assemblies had passed nonbinding statements of opinion regarding the document-tampering scandal, which involves the heavily discounted sale of state land to the Osaka-based school chain, which had named first lady Akie Abe as honorary principal of a new school it planned to build.

Last week, the Niigata and Tottori prefectural assemblies called investigations into the matter insufficient thus far. They warned that representative democracy was imperiled by the Finance Ministry’s decision to delete information in the official documents, including a reference to Akie Abe in which she was quoted by Moritomo chief Yasunori Kagoike as being supportive of the land deal. She has denied any involvement.

“We’re forced to say that the government’s explanation of the facts, including who ordered the deletions, when they ordered them, under whose orders, and why, is completely insufficient,” a statement by the Niigata Prefectural Assembly said last week. The statement was unanimously passed.

“The rewriting of documents by the bureaucrats not only creates doubt about the truth of public records. It also damages trust in the entire administrative system, and is a problem because it could greatly shake the foundations of democracy and the Diet process,” warned a similar statement by the Tottori Prefectural Assembly.

“Along with making clear what happened and thoroughly taking responsibility for the explanation, we call on the central government to take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” said a statement by the Sapporo Municipal Assembly, also adopted last week.

In Kyotanabe, Kyoto Prefecture, the municipal assembly called for the prime minister’s wife and others named in the documents to formally explain their alleged roles.

“Suspicions about the involvement of the prime minister’s wife, Akie, and other politicians is deepening. It’s necessary for them to thoroughly clear up these doubts by having her and the former head of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau Hidenori Sakota and others testify,” the Kyotanabe assembly said. Sakota headed the bureau at the time of the land deal.

The Tottori statement comes as former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who is based in the prefecture, steps up criticism of the way the prime minister has handled the scandal. Ishiba is expected to challenge Abe in his quest for a third term as LDP president in September’s party election.

In a meeting with regional LDP leaders last week, Abe offered an apology for the scandal, saying he bore final responsibility for the bureaucracy.

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