Former Justice Minister Kawai’s resignation should have come sooner

His announcement that he will resign as a Diet member, after all this time, can be said to have come too late. He should fulfill his responsibility to explain the situation and reveal the entire picture of the extensive vote-buying scandal in his own words.

Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, who has been charged with violating the Public Offices Election Law in connection with the 2019 House of Councillors election, changed his plea of not guilty and admitted to the facts of the indictment, in principle, in his trial at the Tokyo District Court. He also expressed his intention to resign as a House of Representatives member to take responsibility.

Kawai was indicted on charges of distributing a total of ¥29 million to 100 people, including local assembly members, to help his wife, Anri, win an upper house election in the Hiroshima prefectural constituency. He has denied intending to buy votes, claiming that the cash was used to congratulate winners in unified local elections, or given as “encouragement gifts” during their election campaigns.

However, most of the local assembly members who appeared as witnesses in his trial testified that they felt he intended to bribe them. Katsuyuki Kawai was driven into a corner and seems to have found it difficult to keep denying the allegations.

Anri Kawai’s intention to bribe people was also acknowledged at her trial, and her conviction has been finalized. It must be said that her husband changed his position as a result of having been pushed into a corner.

However, there is still something unnatural in Katsuyuki Kawai’s decision to resign as a Diet member at this time. If he had resigned by March 15, a by-election would have been held in April. His intention seems to have been to avoid this by-election, in which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was expected to face a tough battle.

Katsuyuki Kawai said, “I wanted my wife to win the election.” This incident is believed to have been triggered by a fierce upper house election campaign that split the conservative camp.

Before the election, the LDP headquarters in Tokyo provided ¥150 million to Anri Kawai’s side as funds for her campaign. During the trial, a report on the questioning of a former accounting staff member was read aloud. It stated that the ¥2.2 million provided to three staff members of her camp “included funds from the party headquarters.”

Where did the money used for the vote-buying come from? Katsuyuki Kawai should give voters a convincing explanation.

The LDP has been slow to respond to the incident. At a press conference, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai said, “Our party will also deal firmly with the issue, as a lesson to ourselves.” Since the incident took place when Katsuyuki Kawai was a member of the party, Nikai cannot be allowed to describe it as someone else’s affair.

Regarding the funds the party provided to Anri Kawai, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the money was used mainly to distribute publicity magazines to expand the party’s influence, suggesting that the funds were not used for vote-buying.

Most people might not be convinced that as much as ¥150 million was spent for such a purpose. The LDP should reexamine the flow of the funds and make its findings public. Unless efforts are made to find out the truth, public distrust in politics will further grow.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 25, 2021.