THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
December 10, 2019 at 16:15 JST
Protesters demand the truth come out regarding the cherry blossom viewing party scandal in front of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 9. (Takuya Tanabe)
The extraordinary Diet session that was rocked by the cherry blossom viewing party scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe closed Dec. 9 without a full investigation, leaving many people feeling outraged and cynical.
That evening, about 30 protesters chanted "Uncover the truth!" in front of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district.
“The way (Abe) appropriates taxpayers’ money is just too much to tolerate,” said Mayumi Ito, 42, a company employee from Kawasaki, during the protest.
Opposition parties and critics have accused Abe of mixing private and public matters as suspicion arose that many guests at this year’s taxpayer-funded sakura viewing party in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district were supporters of Abe and other political figures.
However, the guest list was shredded an hour after an opposition party lawmaker requested it.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga initially denied the existence of special guest slots allocated for Abe and other policymakers, which turned out to be factually inaccurate.
In mid-November, Abe vowed, “Of course I will perform my duty with a clear explanation if the Diet asks.”
But the ruling parties refused to convene Budget Committee sessions, ignoring Diet regulations.
At a news conference on the morning of Dec. 9, Suga took a “so-what” stance, saying, “We will keep offering an in-depth explanation.”
Ito was infuriated when she heard Abe’s reply to the Diet deliberations on the matter.
“I cannot possibly say that he performed his duties with a clear explanation,” she said.
Another protester, Mami Moriya, a staffer of a day-care center in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, became indignant at the fact that the guest list was tossed immediately after the opposition lawmaker requested its disclosure.
“I am bitterly disappointed by the lack of morals of the Abe administration, the way bureaucrats accommodated them as if they had lost their conscience and the public remissness that allows these things to happen,” said Moriya, 61.
A group of legal scholars and political scientists called Save Constitutional Democracy Japan held a news conference that day.
Osamu Nishitani, a professor emeritus at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, said at the news conference that the administration’s attitude toward the scandal “has brought hopelessness and cynicism to society.” Nishitani added that its arrogance makes people become “impervious and feel that providing a pile of rightful arguments wouldn’t make a difference.”
Kenji Ishikawa, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Tokyo, also expressed concern at the news conference.
“Some may question why people keep talking about the cherry blossom viewing party, but there is no more essential issue than this.
“Transparency is the major premise of national government. And that has been defamed every day by the administration’s cover-ups such as shredding the guest list,” he said.
Since October, the Japan National Press Club has asked Abe to hold a news conference by year-end.
The organization since its establishment in 1969 has requested that the prime minister hold a news conference about once a year. Former prime ministers Takeo Fukuda and Yasuhiro Nakasone held the most, with four each.
Abe, who became the longest-serving Japanese leader in history on Nov. 20, held news conferences at the press club in 2007 and 2013. Since then, however, he has refused to accede to the organization’s invitation for six years and seven months, which is also the longest among the succession of prime ministers.
“He can’t find the time,” the prime minister’s office has told the organization.
Shuichi Habu, executive director of the Japan National Press Club, said, “I do hope he accepts (our request).”
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