Arrest of Kakizawa: This Time, It’s a Different Scandal Related to ‘Elections and Money’

Even as the political world is being shaken by one scandal related to political funds raised by factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, an incumbent Diet member has been arrested in another scandal, on suspicion of buying votes in an election. The public’s distrust in politics, which has never been able to break its association with money-related problems, is only increasing.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad arrested Mito Kakizawa, a member of the House of Representatives and former senior vice justice minister, and his four secretaries on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law, including vote-buying, in connection with the April election for mayor of Tokyo’s Koto Ward.

Kakizawa is suspected of having given a total of about ¥2 million to seven people, including ward assembly members, between February and October as rewards for campaigning in order to help candidate Yayoi Kimura win the ward mayoral election.

A prison sentence has been finalized for former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai for handing out cash to 100 local assembly members and others over vote-buying in the 2019 House of Councillors election. It is an extraordinary situation for two people who held key positions in the administration of justice to be accused of crimes.

In Koto Ward, the election for ward assembly members was held on the same schedule as that of the ward mayoral election. Before his arrest, Kakizawa told the special investigation squad that the purpose of the cash he handed out was to provide candidates expected to run in the ward assembly election with “encouragement gifts,” denying the allegation of vote-buying, according to sources.

It would be illegal if Kakizawa handed out the cash not as encouragement gifts for the would-be candidates in the ward assembly election, but as rewards for campaigning in the ward mayoral election. The line between the two interpretations is vague and difficult to understand, so it has been a point of contention in past election violation cases.

To begin with, it must be said that handing out cash before an election is, in itself, inappropriate. The legal system should be revised to broadly prohibit cash handouts before and after an election campaign period.

The investigation will focus on what the ward assembly members and others who were given the cash thought the purpose was, and the nature of their relationship with Kakizawa.

Kakizawa, who had belonged to opposition parties, was elected as an independent in the 2021 House of Representatives election. Immediately after he won his seat, the LDP granted him retroactive status as its official candidate. However, in the latest ward mayoral election, he supported Kimura rather than another candidate recommended by the LDP, a move that caused displeasure within the party.

Kakizawa is also suspected of placing illegal paid online advertisements during the election campaign period, calling for votes for Kimura. He might have intended to gain ground and eventually get support for his own election. It is essential to discern the background of the incident.

After Kimura was elected mayor, she resigned from her post following the allegations of online advertising. In the subsequent election for a new ward mayor, the voter turnout was the lowest ever. People likely are disenchanted with politics.

With each election, cash is handed out willy-nilly among legislators, deepening the cozy, back-scratching relations among them. Unless politicians change this practice, they will not be able to regain the public’s trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 29, 2023)