Political Funds Scandal: LDP Must Return to Sincere Spirit of Reform

“Once swallowed, you forget the heat.” This Japanese proverb, referring to forgetting dangers once a crisis has passed, is a good description of the current state of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP should go back to the basic spirit of political reform and make party-wide efforts to improve itself.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has conducted voluntary questioning of senior members of a party faction once led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in connection with a scandal involving possible violations of the Political Funds Control Law. The people who were questioned include figures who have served in key posts, such as former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and Hiroshige Seko, a former secretary general of the LDP’s House of Councillors members.

It is suspected that the Abe faction was paying cash kickbacks to its Diet members equal to the amount by which they exceeded their quota for selling tickets to fundraising parties, but neither the faction nor the lawmakers reported the money on their political funds reports, making them hidden funds. It is urgent to clarify the situation.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has met with senior LDP officials, including Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and newly appointed Policy Research Council Chairperson Kisaburo Tokai, and instructed them to set up a new organization to study the issue of politics and money. Last week, the prime minister also asked the party’s Youth Division to hear opinions from mid-career and young members of local assemblies.

It is natural that the prime minister, as president of the LDP, should take the lead in reform, but just instructing senior party members does not necessarily mean that party organizations and factions will take steps to eliminate distrust in politics.

It is important for the prime minister and the party as a whole to work together to correct the state of party management and how factions conduct themselves.

Whenever issues of politics and money have emerged, the LDP has repeatedly expressed remorse and promised to make improvements.

The Recruit scandal, which was first uncovered in 1988, involved the provision of a large number of unlisted shares of a Recruit-related company to people in political and business circles, ultimately evolving into a large-scale bribery scandal. Then Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and others were forced to resign to take responsibility for causing political turmoil.

The LDP’s 1989 political reform outline stated: “The public’s distrust of politics has surged to the highest point, and we are now facing a serious situation unprecedented in the history of Japanese politics.” Regarding political funds, the LDP declared in the outline that it would “increase transparency and ensure fairness.”

In 2001, rules for the prime minister and cabinet ministers were adopted stating that they should refrain from organizing large parties.

However, this code of conduct has become a mere formality, and prime ministers and cabinet ministers frequently hold such events without hesitation.

If the commitments made in the code of conduct had been kept, the latest scandal would not have occurred. It must be said that looseness and arrogance has developed within the party during its long period in power.

The Political Funds Control Law aims to ensure fairness by bringing political activities under public scrutiny. Reforms must be carried out in a manner consistent with the principles of this lawmaker-initiated legislation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 26, 2023)