Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Picture: REUTERS
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Picture: REUTERS

Tokyo — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologised in parliament over the second government documents scandal in a month, after an opinion poll showed the latest controversy had inflamed public disapproval.

The most recent scandal relates to Japanese troops’ logs from Iraq, where they were dispatched starting in 2003 to show support for the US-led military campaign. Opposition legislators have said Japan self-defence force officers’ failure to inform the defence minister that they had found such documents threw doubt on civilian control over the military.

"This damages trust, not just in the defence ministry and the self-defence forces, but the government as a whole," Abe said on Monday in response to questions in parliament. "I want to apologise sincerely to the people."

While Japan’s fractured opposition has gained little support from Abe’s woes, growing public dissatisfaction damages his chances of victory in a Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in September.

Earlier, a survey published by broadcast news network JNN showed that disapproval of Abe’s administration rose 9.5 percentage points to 58.4%, compared with the previous poll in March. Approval dropped by a similar margin to 40%, roughly in line with other recent media polls.

Troop logs

Defence minister Itsunori Onodera was quoted by Kyodo News as saying on Wednesday that the ground self-defence forces failed to report to then-minister Tomomi Inada, that it found activity logs in March 2017 for Japanese troops in Iraq, even as she denied their existence during parliamentary deliberations in March. The air self-defence force also failed to report logs it had found, Onodera said Friday.

Under its pacifist constitution, Japan was unable to dispatch troops to a combat zone, and their activities were officially limited to humanitarian and reconstruction duties. While the government defined the area where the troops were based as a "noncombat zone," a detailed account of the situation might undermine that interpretation.

A similar incident in 2017 over the inappropriate handling of GSDF logs for a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan led Inada to resign in July. When respondents to the JNN poll were asked whether they thought elected officials had control over the SDF, 78% said that they did not.

In a separate scandal over the sale of public land to a school operator with links to Abe’s wife, a finance ministry official told parliament Monday that an employee had asked the buyer to lie about the reasons for the heavily discounted price. Suspicions over that transaction sank Abe’s approval to its lowest-ever levels in some polls in March.

With James Mayger