Government must eliminate complacency to regain public trust

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida bears a heavy responsibility for continuing to defend reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba, despite almost daily reports of allegations about political funds involving Akiba and the fact that Akiba was at a loss for answers during Diet deliberations. Kishida should identify problems in handling his administration and rebuild the government.

Kishida has replaced Akiba, who was harshly grilled by opposition parties, over the problem of politics and money.

During the extraordinary Diet session this past autumn, Akiba was questioned over a case in which his political organization paid about ¥14 million in office rent to relatives of his. Akiba stressed that the payment was fair compensation, but he continued to be criticized for channeling large sums of money to his relatives.

Regarding the campaign for last year’s House of Representatives election, suspicions have emerged that Akiba illegally paid money to his two secretaries who engaged in campaign activities in a campaign car that urged people to vote for Akiba. It is believed that the secretaries may have been involved in other campaign activities as well. Akiba and others have been accused of violating the Public Offices Election Law.

Akiba’s second son has also been revealed to have been involved in the election campaign, wearing a sash bearing Akiba’s name across his chest. It is serious that this action marred the holding of a fair election.

Akiba clearly lacked the qualifications to be a Cabinet minister. His resignation can be said to have come too late.

Kishida has also replaced Mio Sugita, a parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, whose discriminatory remarks against members of the Ainu indigenous community and LGBT people had been seen as problematic. Together with Akiba’s replacement, this is apparently aimed at removing factors that could destabilize the administration ahead of the ordinary Diet session to be convened next month.

The decision on personnel affairs in the Cabinet came at the end of the year probably because Kishida optimistically believes that if he can just get through the recently ended extraordinary Diet session, he will be able to work things out.

Akiba is the fourth Cabinet minister to be ousted from the Kishida administration in a little more than two months. In those cases, Kishida eventually decided to replace the ministers after leaving the handling of their scandals entirely to them, and they were ultimately driven into a corner.

If the prime minister spends his political power on the issue of whether to replace Cabinet ministers, his leadership will only diminish. Kishida needs to change his “makeshift” approach and establish a system to carry out government policies over the medium- to long-term.

It is problematic that opposition parties only bring up scandals involving Cabinet ministers in the Diet, a venue where lawmakers must constructively discuss policies. But the government and the ruling parties are also to blame for giving opposition parties a chance to take advantage of such a situation. The Cabinet as a whole must straighten itself up, to make the Diet a forum for fruitful policy debates.

In addition to Akiba, former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Minoru Terada was also forced to resign from his post over allegations regarding political funds. Kentaro Sonoura left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and resigned as a lawmaker. Political confidence cannot be restored unless complacency within the party is eliminated.

The government should also thoroughly investigate the personal behavior of candidates for the Cabinet before they are appointed, including in relation to their political funds.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 28, 2022)