Challenges for Kishida Administration: Restore Trust Quickly While Dealing with National Crisis / Secure Transparency over Political Funds

One of the largest disasters in the Reiwa era (2019-) has occurred, and the Cabinet’s crisis management ability is being tested. There is also an urgent need to restore the trust that was lost due to the alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law by Liberal Democratic Party factions.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should realize that he is at a critical point and must fulfill his responsibilities.

At his New Year press conference, the prime minister called the earthquake that hit the Noto Peninsula a “national crisis” and said, “We will stay close to the people in the affected areas.” In addition to rescuing survivors, the central government needs to put the utmost effort into tackling various issues such as transporting supplies and restoring roads.

Crisis management capability challenged

Regarding the scandal over the alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law, the prime minister said that he would establish a “political reform headquarters” under the direct control of the LDP president to work on political reforms and “thoroughly overhaul the party’s culture.”

The fact that the prime minister himself emphasized that he will take the initiative by stating that “I myself will take the lead” in both the response to the earthquake and the issue of politics and money is a sign that his administration is in a very tight spot.

In the case of the violations of the political funds law, senior members of a faction once led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who are suspected of keeping some of the income from fundraising parties as their own hidden funds were questioned by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office at the end of last year. The outcome of the investigation could determine the fate of the Kishida administration.

The prime minister should thoroughly investigate the issue surrounding factions’ incomes from fundraising parties and lead party reforms in concert with the LDP.

The purpose of the law is to ensure transparency and fairness over political funds so that the public can monitor political activities all the time. It is important to carry out institutional reforms to realize this purpose.

The law currently limits the obligation to disclose party ticket purchasers to those who buy more than ¥200,000 per transaction. At a minimum, it is necessary to revise the law to align the standard with that for donations exceeding ¥50,000 per year, which is the standard for disclosure.

One idea would be to digitize political funds reports to make them easier for voters to inspect.

It is inevitable that politics incurs a certain level of cost. Some argue that all donations from corporations and organizations as well as political fundraising parties should be banned, but if politics is viewed as a dirty business, democracy will cease to exist.

Higher burden postponed

Two years and three months have passed since the first Kishida Cabinet was formed. The policy items that have been addressed so far, such as the strengthening of defense capabilities and taking measures to cope with the declining birth rate, are timely.

However, specific measures such as securing the financial resources to realize these policies have been conspicuously delayed.

The government has decided to establish a “support fund system” to be levied on top of premiums of the public health insurance program in order to secure the funds for measures against the declining birth rate, but the discussions did not delve into the amount of the burden to be borne by the public.

The government has also delayed a decision on the timing of the start of a tax increase to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities.

The prime minister may have judged that it would be difficult to proceed with reforms that would entail an increased burden amid headwinds for his administration, but this stance has caused doubts about his seriousness in tackling these issues and has led to a slump in his approval rating.

How can Japan reverse its declining population and falling birth rate in order to maintain its national strength? Is the nation fully prepared for the worsening security environment? The role of politics, which is to steadily implement policy measures while gaining the understanding of the public, must not be forgotten in order to overcome these challenges.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the political reform legislation that introduced an election system with single-seat representation complemented by proportional representation for the House of Representatives, and the Political Party Subsidies Law, which stipulates that tax money be used to finance political parties.

The party-oriented elections that were aimed for have taken root to some extent, but distortions have also come to light. The scandal over faction fundraising party tickets is one such example, but it is not the only problem.

Under the current electoral system, the judiciary has applied the Constitution’s “equality under the law” to equality in voting value and has placed greater emphasis on correcting the vote-value disparities. As a result, the rezoning of single-seat constituencies in lower house elections has been carried out frequently.

Discuss election system reform

However, as depopulation continues in rural areas, solely pursuing the correction of vote-value disparities will lead to a continuous decrease in the number of lawmakers allocated in rural areas while the number of lawmakers representing urban areas will continue to increase. Under such circumstances, the will of the people in rural areas will be less likely to be reflected, and representative democracy, in which voters entrust their representatives with their political affairs, may be shaken.

The House of Councillors faces a similar problem. The Tottori and Shimane prefectural constituencies and the Tokushima and Kochi constituencies had each been merged into single constituencies in order to correct vote-value disparity, but if the population continues to flow into urban areas, there are indications that new merged constituencies will be necessary in regions such as the Hokuriku region.

Is the current system, under which vote-value disparities are forced to be corrected continuously for both houses of the Diet, really appropriate? The time has come for the ruling and opposition parties to discuss the issue from the very beginning.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 7, 2024)