Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Matsuoka saga is far from over

As fallout from Matsuoka's suicide continues to spread — with an executive at J-GREEN, the MAFF agency under investigation for dispensing contracts to companies supporting Matsuoka, following Matsuoka to the grave — the probability of the Matsuoka/seiji to kane issue looming large over the Upper House elections seems to rise by the day.

What was once a nuisance issue (remember how funny Matsuoka's claims about his drinking water were at the time), which the government could dismiss by pointing to instances of corruption within the DPJ, now increasingly appears to be symptomatic of Abe's government. Not only is Japan facing ghosts of LDP governments past, but it seems that those ghosts never left in the first place: they just found places to hide during the Koizumi interlude.

Are voters going to be forgiving of the government as stories like this emerge? Apparently on 24 May Matsuoka dined with Suzuki Muneo, who during the 1990s was Matsuoka's "twin" in the game of interfering with policy and intervening on behalf of corporations. Muneo (he is commonly referred to by his first name instead of his surname) ended up exiled from the LDP and convicted in a bribery case involving Yamarin, a logging company; Matsuoka was also implicated, but escaped legal proceedings and remained in the LDP and the Diet. Muneo, now back in the Lower House as a representative of his own New Party Daichi, has reported that Matsuoka told him that he wanted to apologize to the Japanese people for his wrongdoing, but he was forbidden from doing so by the government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki and LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa have both denied Muneo's claim.

If Muneo's claim is true — and given that the exiled Muneo's motives for exposing foul play by the government are far from pure, that's a big if — it throws another twist into this fiasco. Did Matsuoka sincerely desire to come clean and ask for forgiveness from the people? Truth be told, that is not altogether inconsistent with his behavior in the past. One reason why he was able to avoid prison, unlike Muneo, is that Matsuoka seemed to have an idea of when he went to far. He was capable of groveling if it meant avoiding punishment and preserving his career. As such, if the government actually muzzled him, his suicide could well have been an attempt to drag the government down with him.

That said, if that was the case, why would he leave eight suicide notes, reportedly none of which contain claims similar to Muneo's? Of course, the actual contents of the notes may never be fully reported to the public.

All of this means that there are enough unanswered questions — without even mentioning the details of the scandals in which Matsuoka was embroiled — to keep this matter festering for the next two months, no matter how hard the Abe Cabinet tries to stifle it.

This is a question for readers and my fellow bloggers: what do you think could bring down Abe — outside of disastrous election results? Could questions about the wisdom in selecting Matsuoka in the first place, which would cast serious doubts on Abe's political judgment, be enough to spark a movement within the LDP to show Abe the door before his leadership causes more damage? And, as an indicator of that movement, should we expect to see moves within the LDP to coalesce behind a successor sooner rather than later?

1 comment:

Adamu said...

From what I've been reading, there have been behind the scenes moves to prepare for "political realignment" that might come as a result of disastrous election results. Now with this suicide, you see people calling for a cabinet reshuffle before the election, which seems like a pretty weak way to try and win back public confidence. Still, I get the feeling that this won't happen and the LDP will wait out Abe through the election, while the likely successors start to make their cases in the media (Taro Aso for his part is featured in Shukan Asahi on the release of his new book which is seen as a declaration of his intentions to succeed Abe sooner rather than later since he's getting too old to wait for Abe's intended 'long-term administration').

I think people will be willing to wait out Abe through the end of the Diet session and into the election, if only because the options of a sudden change in administration (especially to someone as potentially divisive and gaffe-prone as Aso) or a split in the LDP would be even less attractive than keeping Abe on.

A change in administration or a divided LDP would almost certainly mean the lower house would be dissolved, and that would put the LDP's hold on the kantei in trouble, a situation that pretty much everyone wants to avoid. And even if the DPJ wins the upper house in July they can't beat the huge LDP majority in the lower.