Remuneration Return Ruling: Top Court Puts Politicians on Notice: Election Cheats Must Return Their Pay

The public is watching closely as Diet and assembly members continue to be paid even after being charged with election violations. A judicial decision should serve as a wake-up call that the cost of wrongdoing is heavy.

The Supreme Court has ruled against a man whose election to the Osaka municipal assembly was annulled after he was convicted of vote-buying violation of the Public Offices Election Law. The top court ordered him to return to the city a total of about ¥14 million in salary and political activity allowances.

The man was arrested in 2019 and continued his activities as an assembly member after being released on bail, but his guilty ruling was finalized in 2020. In Supreme Court sessions, the man argued that he did not need to return the money because he “performed activities that were comparable to those of his fellow assembly members” while he was out on bail.

The district and high court rulings ordered him to return his remuneration and allowances covering the period during which he was in detention and unable to engage in activities.

However, the Supreme Court stated: “The man himself seriously harmed the fairness and appropriateness of the election. His activities have no value as a municipal assembly member.” The court ordered him to return his remuneration and allowances dating back to the time of his election.

Elections are the foundation of democracy. The top court seems to have taken a serious view of the malignant nature of his disregard for fairness in the election.

The Public Offices Election Law stipulates that if a guilty ruling against a Diet or assembly member is finalized for such charges as bribing voters in his or her own election, that election will be invalidated. This means the guilty person would not have been a member of the Diet or an assembly from the beginning. Full return of all remuneration and allowances would be the proper course of action.

Many lawmakers and assembly members who are charged with election violations remain in office until their guilty rulings are finalized. Some such people continue to receive remuneration and allowances even though they are so busy dealing with their trials that they cannot fully engage in their political activities — all while failing to fulfill their accountability. Many voters must have a growing sense of distrust.

Some local governments have ordinances that reduce the remuneration of arrested assembly members, accounting for the number of days they are absent from assembly sessions. However, many local governments continued to pay remuneration and allowances until the day the election is ruled invalid.

Going forward, local governments need to establish a mechanism to urge such assembly members to return their remuneration and other allowances, and then to demand that they pay back such funds if they do not comply with the initial request.

The latest top court ruling is expected to affect Diet members whose elections are invalidated due to election violations.

However, the Constitution states that Diet members are entitled to receive their annual payment, and there is no provision that allows the state to demand the return of such payment even if their election is invalidated.

Many issues need to be addressed regarding those requested to pay back their remuneration and allowances dating back to the time of their election. For example, how should the policies and legislation they were involved in while in office be handled? And how should their activities be evaluated?

The central and local governments should deepen discussions, such as by considering the establishment of rules regarding the amount of remuneration and allowances to be returned.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 13, 2023)