The ruling party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not send anyone to speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan before the Dec. 14 general election, a party spokesman said, sparking accusations it is shying away from tough questions.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said it has been unable to find anyone from its senior ranks who can represent it at the venue ahead of the House of Representatives election.
The move has fanned suspicions that LDP bigwigs want to avoid the foreign press, which is generally considered more probing than its often tame Japanese counterpart.
“A lot of people at the club are seeing this as an abdication of the LDP’s responsibility to take questions on the world’s third-largest economy,” said journalist David McNeill, chairman of the FCCJ’s events committee.
The FCCJ, a fee-paying club mainly aimed at foreign journalists, regularly hosts news conferences and events to which key figures in the worlds of politics, academia or entertainment are invited. The gatherings can be rambunctious, with subjects sometimes facing more aggressive questioning than they do at the hands of domestic journalists, who, by Western standards, tend to pull their punches.
As a result, the FCCJ’s news conferences frequently make news in Japan, where television and newspapers use the foreign press as a prism to examine issues they feel uncomfortable tackling head on.
McNeill said club members could not remember an election when the LDP did not send a senior official to speak to the global media.
“We are very upset that they have broken the tradition,” he said. “The reasons that they have given for not coming are a disappointment. If it was the case that they were busy, we could have discussed it.”
The suspicion, he says, is that the party is wary after the mauling a new Cabinet minister got in a recent appearance, when she was repeatedly pressed on her links to right-wing groups.
The LDP denied it was avoiding the foreign press corps and insisted it was simply a matter of scheduling.
“We appreciate such an opportunity to speak at the FCCJ at a normal time, but we are now in the middle of the election battle,” an LDP spokesman said. “Prime Minister Abe has spoken at the FCCJ in the past, even if not in the capacity of prime minister. But he is now on the campaign trail across the country.”
The nation goes to the polls next month less than two years after Abe swept to power on a wave of optimism over his “Abenomics” plan to reinvigorate the economy and end deflation.
He has said he needs the public’s seal of approval for his plan to put off a second consumption tax hike, but commentators suggest the costly election is more an exercise in consolidating his grip on power.
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