Fake signatures in Aichi recall drive seriously harm credibility of system

If the forgery of signatures is repeated, it will undermine confidence in the very foundations of the recall system. Investigative authorities need to clarify the entire picture of the incident to prevent such a recurrence.

Four people, including former prefectural assembly member Takahiro Tanaka, who was chief of the secretariat of the group collecting the signatures, were arrested on suspicion of violating the Local Autonomy Law over alleged fraudulent signatures in a campaign to recall Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura.

In October last year, Tanaka and others allegedly forged signatures by recruiting part-time workers through an advertising-related company to have them copy eligible voters’ names to the recall campaign’s signature lists. The work was allegedly done in Saga City, far from Aichi Prefecture.

Recall is a system under the Local Autonomy Law that allows voters to directly request the dismissal of the head of a local government or the dissolution of its assembly. If the allegations are true, it is a malicious act that distorts the will of the people.

The signature-collecting campaign started under the leadership of cosmetic surgeon Katsuya Takasu in opposition to Omura’s handling of the Aichi Triennale 2019 international art festival as head of the festival’s executive committee. Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura was also among those who supported the recall campaign.

About 430,000 signatures were submitted to the election administration commissions of municipalities in the prefecture, but 80% of these signatures are suspected to be invalid. For the recall to go ahead, about 860,000 signatures would have been needed. Even though the recall campaign did not ultimately succeed, it produced an atmosphere in which it seemed that as many as about 430,000 people had endorsed the governor’s dismissal.

Before his arrest, Tanaka made comments in interviews with media organizations, including that “I was feeling pressed because the signatures were not collected smoothly.”

The Local Autonomy Law only stipulates that if the required number of signatures is reached, the election administration commission is supposed to examine whether the signatures are valid. However, there is no provision in the law on whether the commission should examine the validity of signatures that do not reach the required number. For that reason, the arrested individuals may have thought that the about 430,000 signatures would not be sufficiently checked and the wrongdoing would not come to light.

Some people must have felt uneasy about their names being used without permission and even their addresses and dates of birth being written on the recall campaign’s signature lists. About 8,000 names on the lists belonged to people who were already deceased. The question of who obtained the original lists of voters and how has not been resolved.

Tanaka had planned to run in Aichi Constituency No. 5 in the next House of Representatives election as a candidate for Nippon Ishin no Kai. There is a possibility that he expected support from Takasu and Kawamura.

Although Kawamura has denied any involvement in the irregularities, he bears a heavy responsibility for playing a central role in the campaign and the events leading to the arrests of members of the group.

In response to the incident, the Aichi prefectural election administration commission has proposed to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry that the rules on collecting signatures be tightened. The credibility of signatures is at the heart of the recall system. To prevent a recurrence, election administration commissions’ function of checking signatures should be strengthened.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 21, 2021.