Court gives tough sentence in case involving large-scale vote-buying

Compared with past incidents of election violations, the number of people who took bribes and the amount of money used for vote-buying are significantly higher. It was extremely corrupt. The strict judicial ruling is understandable.

Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, who had been charged with violating the Public Offices Election Law over the 2019 House of Councillors election, was sentenced to three years in prison by the Tokyo District Court. According to the ruling, he distributed a total of ¥28.7 million to 100 people including local assembly members in order to help his wife Anri secure a seat in the election.

The ruling rejected the request on Katsuyuki Kawai’s side for a suspended sentence, arguing that it was “an extremely depraved crime that undermined the fairness of elections, which is the basis of democracy.” The ruling apparently took seriously a vote-buying scheme that involved forcing money on people and the destruction of evidence after the incident, among other factors.

Katsuyuki Kawai’s attitude during the trials can hardly be said to be sincere. Initially, he pleaded not guilty, but when local assembly members and others admitted that they had received cash while recognizing the corrupt intention, he suddenly changed his mind and basically accepted the indictment.

Until then, he had not resigned as a House of Representatives member and failed to fulfill his responsibility to explain the incident. For a person who once served as justice minister, a post in charge of maintaining law and order, his behavior can be said to have been lacking in self-awareness over the weight of responsibility of the post.

Anri Kawai has already been convicted and received a suspended sentence. With the latest ruling, the couple’s vote-buying scheme has been acknowledged at their trials. Katsuyuki Kawai’s side appealed against the ruling.

On the other hand, 40 people in Hiroshima Prefecture, comprising local assembly members and municipality heads, who accepted the cash, have yet to receive criminal punishment. Because of this, many are still in public service, and distrust in them is growing in their local communities.

This time, Katsuyuki Kawai was sentenced to prison without suspension. From the perspective of fair punishment, the prosecution should promptly impose strict criminal punishments on those who received cash.

The political distrust brought about by the incident is deep. Anri Kawai’s camp received ¥150 million in election campaign funds from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo. The party needs to investigate the possibility that the money could have been used to buy votes and convincingly explain its findings to the public.

There has been a series of irregularities involving former Cabinet members who had belonged to the LDP, including Isshu Sugawara, a former economy, trade and industry minister who has faced summary indictment for making donations, including cash, to voters in his constituency, and former agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa, who has been indicted without arrest on corruption charges.

The party has failed to fulfill its accountability for these incidents as well. In addition, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai has made remarks that are a far cry from the public’s perception, saying, “The problem of money and politics is getting much cleaner.”

The public has cast a stern eye on politics. Unless politicians straighten themselves up and demonstrate that their self-policing mechanism works, it will be impossible to regain public trust in politics.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 19, 2021.