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In June 2001, the first government-sponsored town meeting under the initiative of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was held to promote direct dialogue between the people and Cabinet ministers. So far, there have been 174 such meetings. But a report by a Cabinet Office investigation panel shows that most were a sham to manipulate public opinion in favor of government policies.

In 105 of such meetings, people were planted to ask questions or make statements. In 15 meetings, bureaucrats pre-arranged questions asked by participants. It is especially outrageous that questions were staged at town meetings dealing with major topics such as legal and education reform — in five of eight town meetings on education reform and in six of seven on legal reform.

A gratuity of 5,000 yen was even given to 65 people picked to asked questions at 25 town meetings. (They do not include those who asked staged questions.) The report also says that at 71 town meetings, or about 40 percent of the total, the central government asked local governments to mobilize as many people as possible to attend them.

At a town meeting in Kyoto in November 2005, the drawing of lots was manipulated to exclude two people who had appeared with an unfavorable placard in another event.

It would not be far-fetched to say that town meetings became rigged theaters to increase support for the Koizumi administration. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in charge of town meetings as chief Cabinet secretary of the administration. Major advertising agencies were in charge of the actual operation.

Clearly tax money was wasted. In the early stage, one town meeting cost an average 22 million yen. The cost later fell to between 7 million yen and 13 million yen. It is revealing that up to 40,000 yen was paid to a person who escorted a Cabinet minister inside a building and up to 29,000 yen was paid to a person who operated an elevator for a Cabinet minister.

Cabinet ministers can promote real democracy by attending meetings organized by citizens’ groups or local governments, not by central government bureaucrats.

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