National / Politics

Diet deliberations slow as opposition hounds government over cherry blossom-viewing scandal

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Deliberations in the Diet slowed to a crawl on Friday as opposition parties effectively boycotted debates to protest the way Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has handled a scandal over a state-funded cherry blossom-viewing party.

And with the extraordinary Diet session set to close in about a week, there is a lot at stake for the ruling bloc.

“There are still many important bills that need to be passed in the Upper House, such as the ratification of the U.S.-Japan trade treaty,” Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso was quoted by NHK as telling a meeting of his intraparty faction.

“We must work hard to ensure that the bill will be enacted during this session,” he stressed.

Allegations that Abe invited to the party an executive of Japan Life Co., a company that went bankrupt in 2017 after engaging in fraudulent business practices, have raised questions about who was on the guest list and why. Other issues, such as reports that the government shredded the guest list for the party on the day that a Japanese Communist Party member asked the government to release it, have put the administration on the defensive.

“From what I understand, (the electronic copy of the guest list) cannot be retrieved,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters at his daily news conference on Friday.

When asked whether that was because of internal rules regarding data access or because it was technically impossible, Suga said he is “not aware of which it may be” but added that “the data has been handled in accordance with the relevant rules.”

Regardless, the ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, proceeded to hold the plenary session of the Lower House despite a delay of a few hours and with the opposition parties absent.

The party scandal has dominated headlines over the past few weeks. What started as questions about why Abe was requesting so much money to be set aside for the event evolved and splintered over time as new allegations came to light.

Questions that have been raised in the scandal have included whether Abe attempted to buy votes from constituents, whether members of organized crime groups were in attendance, and whether the government had attempted to cover up who attended the event.