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Politics

School donation scandal puts spotlight on a leader's duty

The Abes should avoid even the appearance of impropriety

TOKYO -- Debating whether Japanese first lady Akie Abe really gave 1 million yen ($9,010 at current rates) to the head of a nationalist-school operator is a fruitless endeavor. The two sides disagree. One can only trust that the authorities will uncover any possible wrongdoing.

The incident nevertheless raises questions about political and moral responsibility. As the man in charge of the government, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe incurs great obligations as a public official. Preserving trust in the political system demands that he not say or do things that make others doubt his motives.

Many are involved in the business of running schools. Abe risked controversy in deciding to form ties with just one of them, even if they hold similar beliefs. While Abe was apparently not prime minister yet when first contacted, he was about to start his second run in office.

Listening to requests is part of a politician's job. But your company should and does change when your position changes. Private-sector leaders experience this as well.

It is not too late yet. Though Abe is famous for his loyalty to friends, he should be careful when associating with people the public considers inappropriate -- at least while in office.

The same goes for his wife. While the cabinet may have deemed her a private citizen, her travels around the country suggest that she sees herself as more than a housewife and bar owner. She has not stopped making speeches and attending events since the scandal broke, demonstrating a lack of mindfulness of her position as first lady.

Hayato Ikeda took office as prime minister in 1960 with a public promise not to visit high-end lounges, then considered synonymous with backroom deals. As the saying goes, a wise man stays away from danger.

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