Apart from such matters as a possible amendment to the Constitution and whether to go ahead with the next consumption tax hike, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's accountability over the Kake Gakuen and Moritomo Gakuen scandals — which raised suspicions of favoritism in the government's decision-making processes over the school operators with ties to the prime minister or his wife — looms as an issue in Sunday's Lower House election. Abe should not forget that voters are still waiting for full explanations of the scandals. He should not consider the job finished if he survives the election.
Also connected with the scandals are questions over the relationship between the Prime Minister's Office and the bureaucracy. The Abe administration has created a setup to tightly control the personnel affairs of high-ranking government bureaucrats in the form of the Cabinet personnel affairs bureau established within the secretariat of the Prime Minister's Office. It has raised suspicions that feeling invisible pressure, elite bureaucrats will not go against the intentions of the prime minister or his office — or even try to conform to his will — possibly in excessive ways, without being explicitly told what to do or not to do.
In February, it surfaced that the Finance Ministry had sold a government-owned tract of land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, at a steep discount to Moritomo Gakuen, an Osaka-based school operator, for the construction of a new elementary school. The land, which originally had an appraisal value of ¥956 million, was sold at a mere ¥134 million, or a discount of more than ¥800 million. The fact that Abe's wife, Akie, was listed as honorary principal of the planned school gave rise to suspicions that the government offered the steep discount out of favoritism. The Finance Ministry, which was responsible for the land deal, insisted that the sale was legitimate and that the discount was made to cover the cost of disposing of industrial waste found at the site. The ministry, however, refused to give further explanations by saying that documentary records of the negotiations for the land sale had been destroyed.