Anri Kawai Must Not Leave the Stage without Providing a Full Explanation

It is serious that a large-scale vote-buying scandal has damaged the public’s trust in politics. The lawmaker’s resignation was inevitable.

Anri Kawai has resigned as a House of Councillors member after a court ruled that she had violated the Public Offices Election Law in the 2019 upper house election. She expressed her intention not to appeal the ruling at a higher court just before the deadline for filing an appeal. She resigned before her conviction was finalized, after which she would have been stripped of her Diet seat.

In the case of illegal compensation paid to election campaign workers, the guilty ruling for her secretary has been finalized. It was highly likely that she would have lost her status as a Diet member as a lawsuit seeking to invalidate her election had been filed under the guilt-by-association system. It can be said that her decision to resign after she was driven into a corner came too late.

The Tokyo District Court ruled that Anri Kawai conspired with her husband, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, to provide a total of ¥1.6 million to four prefectural assembly members on her political home turf of Hiroshima Prefecture, as compensation for them gathering votes and facilitating other matters. The court sentenced her to 16 months in prison suspended for five years.

Katsuyuki Kawai has been indicted on charges of buying votes from 100 people including local assembly members. Anri Kawai has not disclosed matters such as how the money was transferred, saying her husband’s trial is underway.

The couple has refused to explain the scandal to the public, citing the ongoing investigation and trials as the reason. It is unacceptable to try to put an end to the scandal, leaving questions unanswered. Anri Kawai should fulfill her accountability.

Even though she has already left the Liberal Democratic Party, the handling of the party, which backed her in the election, is also problematic.

She was absent from the Diet for a long period of time and failed to fulfill her duties as a lawmaker. Wasn’t it the role of the ruling party to make efforts to restore public trust in politics by urging her to resign as a lawmaker as soon as possible? The party has also remained vague about the circumstances and reasons surrounding the large amount of party funds provided to her.

The lack of ethics among LDP lawmakers has been conspicuous recently. Former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa resigned as a lawmaker, citing health problems, but he has been indicted on charges of taking cash bribes from a company while in office, at his ministerial room among other locations. An LDP House of Representatives member has also been indicted in a bribery case involving a casino resort complex. He left the party but remains a lawmaker.

As LDP president, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is likely to be pressured to tighten his grip on party members.

Recently, lawmakers of the LDP and its ruling coalition partner Komeito were also forced to resign from their party or the Diet after being found to have stayed at hostess clubs in Tokyo’s Ginza district until late at night during the state of emergency.

Following Anri Kawai’s resignation, an upper house by-election will be held in the Hiroshima prefectural constituency in April. By-elections will be also held in Hokkaido Constituency No. 2 for a lower house seat and the Nagano prefectural constituency for an upper house seat.

The ruling parties must be aware that they will be under the scrutiny of voters.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 5, 2021.