• Kyodo

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Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, a potential challenger to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for president of the Liberal Democratic Party this fall, apparently took a veiled crack at Abe’s handling of the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen cronyism scandals while stumping in Shikoku over the weekend.

“It’s wrong to speak as if something that has happened did not happen. It’s wrong to keep evading,” the former secretary-general said while stumping in Tokushima Prefecture on Sunday.

The remarks were taken as references to two scandals heavily linked to Abe or his wife, Akie. Shinzo Abe has denied involvement in both.

In the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, Abe denies that either he or his wife played a role in the Finance Ministry’s decision to sell state land at a steep discount to a nationalist school entity that was building a kindergarten in Osaka where Akie Abe was the honorary principal. In the Kake Gakuen scandal, Abe denies he influenced the government’s decision to let his close friend open the nation’s first new veterinary school in half a century, in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

“When you ought to say ‘I’m sorry,’ you should say so. If these things are not properly done, this country will really go in the wrong direction,” said Ishiba, who leads a faction of 20 lawmakers in the LDP.

Ishiba also lamented the LDP’s refusal to strongly demand that Abe be held responsible in regard to the allegations.

“The LDP cannot win public support if it cannot properly admit (the prime minister) has made a mistake,” Abe’s 61-year-old rival said.

Ishiba set up his faction immediately after Abe was re-elected LDP president uncontested in 2015. The move was seen as preparations for a second run in the leadership race this September. In the LDP’s 2012 leadership election runoff, Abe defeated Ishiba.

In May, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, who leads the LDP’s largest faction, with 94 lawmakers, called for the party to back Abe in September.

In a Kyodo News poll in May asking who should be the LDP’s next leader, Ishiba came second, with support from 24.7 percent of the respondents.

In first was rising star Shinjiro Koizumi, the LDP’s chief deputy secretary-general, at 26.6 percent.

Abe came in third at 21.2 percent, though he was the most popular figure among pro-LDP respondents, at 45.8 percent.

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