• Yomiuri Editorial

Political Funds Scandal: Personnel Reshuffle Not Sufficient to Dispel Distrust over Allegations

Simply keeping members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction at arm’s length will not be enough to dispel public distrust directed at the party as a whole. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should display leadership in clarifying recent allegations.

Today (Thursday), Kishida intends to replace four Cabinet ministers, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, as well as five state ministers — all of whom belong to the Abe faction — over allegations that the faction failed to record some of the income from political fundraising parties in political funds reports, with the proceeds becoming “hidden funds.”

The Abe faction allegedly kicked back to its members in cash the amount of party tickets sales in excess of members’ sales quotas, and demanded that the amount of kickbacks not be included in their own political funds reports. The kickbacks were not recorded in the political funds report of the faction itself, either.

Matsuno, a former secretary general of the Abe faction, is suspected of having received kickbacks of more than ¥10 million. However, he continues to refuse to explain the allegations leveled against him, citing his “position in the government.” This makes it impossible for him to fulfill his role as a key member of the Cabinet.

With a mountain of domestic and international issues to be dealt with, such sand in the gears of national politics is unacceptable. Toward the end of the year, discussions on tax system reform and the compilation of the budget for the next fiscal year will be in full swing. It is quite natural that Kishida will replace Cabinet members and other officials who are under suspicion.

The Abe faction’s kickbacks are thought to have totaled ¥500 million over the past five years, and it is said that there could be dozens of Diet members who have been involved in the creation of the hidden funds.

It would be outrageous if acts that violate the Political Funds Control Law, which aims to make political funds transparent, were committed in a systematic manner. The qualifications of the Diet members involved could also be questioned.

The second Cabinet led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, launched at the end of 2012, was in power for seven years and nine months, creating a political situation called “sole dominance.” Slackness and complacency in supporting the long-term administration may have become widespread within the faction.

To regain the public’s trust, Kishida, as the LDP president, needs to make each faction and the legislators under suspicion provide satisfactory explanations.

However, even the Kishida faction, where Kishida himself served as leader for 11 years until recently, is suspected of underreporting income from political fundraising parties. Although the amount is said to be relatively small in comparison to that of the Abe and other factions, Kishida simply stated, “I have instructed the faction to deal appropriately with the issue.”

If Kishida cannot even give a proper explanation of the political funds of a faction he led himself, his calls for the party to straighten itself out will lack persuasive power.

With the Diet session closed, the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is considering questioning dozens of Diet members. It has been noted that this could develop into a large-scale scandal.

Kishida must be aware that he is standing on the brink.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 14, 2023)