Scandal at Home and Trump’s North Korea U-Turn Leave Japan’s Abe Exposed

Scandal at Home and Trump’s North Korea U-Turn Leave Japan’s Abe Exposed
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives for the 2018 Winter Olympics at Yangyang International Airport, Yangyang, South Korea, Feb. 9, 2018 (AP photo by Lee Jin-man).

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has defied the usual short-term trajectory of Japanese administrations. Indeed, if Abe is able to serve out a third term as leader of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with leadership elections slated for September, and maintain power in Japan’s parliament, the Diet, he would become Japan’s longest-serving modern-day leader. But before he has a chance to get there, he’ll have to weather the kind of unexpected political instability that he has largely avoided in Tokyo.

The largest point of contention right now for Abe is a re-emergent scandal over potential graft in the sale of state land, which has proven to be the biggest challenge to his administration since he was elected in late 2012. This political storm has been incrementally brewing in Tokyo for the past year, sparked by revelations last year that officials from Japan’s Ministry of Finance permitted the sale of government land at a reduced price to a right-wing, nationalist school group called Moritomo Gakuen. The head of that foundation, Yasunori Kagoike, was allowed to purchase the two-acre plot of land for about $1.2 million, a figure far below its assessed value of approximately $8.3 million. The scandal has since snowballed with the release of information that Abe’s wife, Akie Abe, was honorary principal of the planned school and allegations that she donated 1 million yen—about $8,800—to Moritomo Gakuen.

Abe has denied any involvement in the scandal and indicated that he would step down if any evidence were found directly tying him to the sale. Until now, there has been no “smoking gun” that connects Abe to the land deal, but as the scandal continues to widen, his Cabinet has increasingly become vulnerable. Opposition parties in Japan have seized on the moment, especially as new revelations have implicated officials from the Ministry of Finance, who allegedly forged and redacted names from key documents relating to the land sale. The ministry also admitted to intentionally misleading the Diet on the existence of files relating to the issue.

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