Japan's Abe Apologizes Again as Scandals Deepen Mistrust
(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized in parliament over the second government documents scandal in a month, after an opinion poll showed the latest controversy had inflamed public disapproval.
The most recent scandal relates to Japanese troops’ logs from Iraq, where they were dispatched starting in 2003 to show support for the U.S.-led military campaign. Opposition lawmakers have said Japan Self-Defense Force officers’ failure to inform the defense minister that they had found such documents throws doubt on civilian control over the military.
“This damages trust, not just in the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces, but the government as a whole,” Abe said Monday in response to questions in parliament. “I want to apologize sincerely to the people.”
While Japan’s fractured opposition has gained little support from Abe’s woes, growing public dissatisfaction damages his chances of victory in a Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in September.
Earlier, a survey published by broadcast news network JNN showed that disapproval of Abe’s administration rose 9.5 percentage points to 58.4 percent, compared with the previous poll last month. Approval dropped by a similar margin to 40 percent, roughly in line with other recent media polls.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera was quoted by Kyodo News as saying Wednesday that the Ground Self-Defense Forces failed to report to then-minister Tomomi Inada, that it found activity logs in March 2017 for Japanese troops in Iraq, even as she denied their existence during parliament deliberations the previous month. The Air Self-Defense Force also failed to report logs it had found, Onodera said Friday.
Under its pacifist constitution, Japan was unable to dispatch troops to a combat zone, and their activities were officially limited to humanitarian and reconstruction duties. While the government defined the area where the troops were based as a “non-combat zone,” a detailed account of the situation might undermine that interpretation.
A similar incident last year over the inappropriate handling of GSDF logs for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan led Inada to resign in July. When respondents to the JNN poll were asked whether they thought elected officials had control over the SDF, 78 percent said that they did not.
In a separate scandal over the sale of public land to a school operator with links to Abe’s wife, a Finance Ministry official told parliament Monday that an employee had asked the buyer to lie about the reasons for the heavily discounted price. Suspicions over that transaction sank Abe’s approval to its lowest-ever levels in some polls last month.
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