Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Wednesday opened Parliament with an apology for scandals that have given the opposition ammunition to attack his leadership and threaten to obstruct debate on economic revival steps.
Opposition parties have agreed to take united action in Parliament to seek answers from Mori concerning a bribery scandal that has engulfed his ruling Liberal Democratic Party only months before nationwide elections.
In a policy speech, Mori promised cleaner government and emphasized that the nation’s top priority was sustaining the economic recovery and implementing reforms that will ensure self-sustained growth.
“To be obliged to start this session with a mention of … corruption is truly regrettable,” he said to heckles from opposition benches. “I will make utmost efforts to prevent such incidents from happening again.”
‘The most important issue at hand is putting the economy safely on the recovery track,” he said.
The government hopes to secure approval by late March for an 82.65 trillion yen (US$713 billion) budget aimed at nursing the economic recovery.
Dubbing the new session a “reform parliament,” Mori also pledged new legislation to spark an Internet revolution in Japan, improve educational standards, and make the nation’s bloated bureaucracy more efficient.
“I will put all my efforts into making Japan the world’s leading Internet nation within five years,” Mori said.
The prime minister is battling near record-low popularity ratings ahead of elections for the upper house of Parliament in July: A newspaper poll this week showed 70 percent disapproval for his Cabinet.
Seeing a chance to weaken the LDP’s grip on power, the opposition says it will use the nationally televised parliamentary debates to probe allegations that senior LDP lawmakers accepted improper contributions from business organization KSD.
The parties also intend to raise questions about the government’s handling of an embezzlement scandal at the Foreign Ministry.
Mori’s spokesman said the government would be transparent in its handling of the scandals.
“I think both cases should be fully investigated by authorities and we have to disclose all the facts,” said Kazuhiko Koshikawa.