"An indispensable man of talent for agriculture administration"

Prime Minister Abe has given an official response to the suicide of MAFF Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu — what Sankei Shimbun has dubbed a “shock” to Japan’s political world. While all parties and players are shocked by the news, however, the uniform response seems to be that Matsuoka’s suicide, coming on the heels of revelations about widespread government mismanagement of pension payments.

Facing another crisis of confidence in his government, Abe addressed the news, noting, “Naturally as prime minister I feel responsible for actions taken by ministers in my cabinet.” He also said that there will be no investigation of either allegations about the misuse of political funds that Matsuoka claimed to have used to pay utilities in a rent-free office at the Diet Members’ Office Building or allegations about funds received from companies that received contracts from MAFF.

I suppose that that was to be expected, but at the same time, this issue should not be swept under the rug. Japan needs to confront how its politicians make policy, corruption and all. While it would be inappropriate now to make Matsuoka the face of corruption, the record of his wrongdoing remains — and he is far from the only politician to indulge in the acts that he allegedly performed. The challenge for the DPJ and other opposition parties in the two months before the Upper House elections will be to find a way to emphasize the need for comprehensive political reform, especially as far as political funds are concerned, without being seen as attacking the late agriculture minister personally.

Meanwhile, as Asahi (and every other newspaper) reports, pressure within the LDP for a cabinet reshuffle, already strong before this incident, has grown inexorably. The likelihood of Abe’s nominating a new cabinet in the month between the end of the Diet session and the Upper House elections seems high. Will it make a difference? If events continue to unfold for the government as they have the past week, probably not. While Abe may survive the elections intact — barring a DPJ landslide — his authority as prime minister seems to have taken a critical blow, from which it may prove difficult to recover.

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