National / Politics

Opposition calls for Diet extension over cherry blossom party scandal

Kyodo

Opposition parties Wednesday ramped up calls to extend the current Diet session, saying the government lied about the existence of backup data for a guest list to a state-funded cherry blossom-viewing party this year.

The recent furor over the event shows no signs of easing, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s denials that he used it for personal gain. He also denies he invited a former chairman of a company suspected of fraudulent business activity.

“This is not going to end. We’d rather ask for an extension to the Diet session beyond the year’s end,” Jun Azumi, the Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters. The current extraordinary session runs through next Monday.

The calls came as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga admitted Wednesday that backup data for the guest list for this year’s cherry blossom-viewing party was kept longer than earlier stated.

“When electronic data is deleted, the backup data is kept for up to eight weeks,” Suga said at a news conference.

Opposition party lawmakers have been calling for the disclosure of the guest list to shine light on what they view as an opaque selection process. The government has responded to the opposition bloc by saying neither the list nor its electronic data have been retained.

The paper guest list for the annual cherry blossom party in April was shredded May 9, around the same time as an opposition party lawmaker requested its disclosure, while the electronic version was deleted between May 7 and 9, according to the government.

A senior official told a parliamentary session on May 21 that the data had already been deleted. Based on Suga’s comments Wednesday that was likely not the case, leading the opposition forces to say a false statement had been made to the Diet.

Abe has also come under fire for remarks taken as placing the blame on a government employee with disabilities, who was in charge of shredding the guest list.

He told the Diet on Monday that it took some time for the government to discard the list because the employee had shorter working hours and a shredder large enough to dispose of the list was not available sooner.

The annual party is a long-held tradition, and the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, as well as the chief and deputy chief Cabinet secretaries can recommend invitees. The government draws up a guest list based on such recommendations.

The four major opposition parties have agreed that a Budget Committee session needs to be held with the attendance of Abe to address the recent controversy.

Despite calls for extending the current parliamentary session, Hiroshi Moriyama, the Diet affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party told reporters, “It’s not on our mind.”