LDP Reform Headquarters: Discussions Should Start Based on Party’s Existing Political Reform Plan

The meaning of reform is to remove harmful effects and create something completely new. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party must engage in reforms so that its efforts do not end up as false labeling.

The LDP has held the first meeting of its political reform headquarters, which was established under the direct control of the LDP president. In light of a scandal over alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law involving the party’s factions, the party said the headquarters will discuss how to make the handling of revenues raised by political fundraising parties transparent and also that it would conduct a review of what factions should be like.

This week, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad arrested a House of Representatives lawmaker who belongs to the Abe faction, and also his policy secretary, on suspicion of violating the law by allegedly making false reports on political funds. Speculation is rife that prosecutors will build a criminal case against yet another lawmaker.

If the LDP further loses public trust, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also the LDP president, will find it difficult to handle his administration. The party needs to sincerely reflect on the scandal, ensure the transparency of political funds and change the party’s management style that gives priority to the intentions of factions.

As a specific proposal for reforming political funds, Kishida has stated that payments for political party ticket purchases should be limited to bank account transfers. With regard to the review of factions, he has indicated his intention to conduct an audit of factional income and expenditures through the party headquarters.

Kishida appears to think that if the exchange of political funds in cash is stopped and the funds are transferred to bank accounts for which records are kept, it will be possible to eliminate the practice of creating hidden funds, which is said to have become the norm in the Abe faction.

On the other hand, it is not easy to rethink the nature of factions.

Since some of the factions are political organizations with long histories, it is said that even the party leadership finds it difficult to interfere with their management. Even if the party were to monitor the funds of these factions, the effectiveness of such monitoring would be questionable.

Three factional leaders — Vice President Taro Aso, Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and General Council Chairperson Hiroshi Moriyama — are among the directors of the new political reform headquarters. Is it possible for these faction bosses to reform the party?

At the first meeting, Kishida said, “The LDP itself must change.” However, as he gave no indication as to how or by what means this change would take place, one is inclined to doubt the seriousness of his intentions.

The direction of factional reform was set by the LDP itself more than 30 years ago.

The political reform outline, formulated in 1989 in light of the Recruit scandal, declared that factions should refrain from holding political fundraising parties. It stated that the president, vice president and secretary general of the party, as well as cabinet ministers, would leave their factions while in office, and even mentioned the dissolution of factions as the ultimate goal.

In reality, however, even the practice of officials stepping away from factions during their tenure in key posts has not been observed. Kishida, despite receiving criticism, had remained as president of the Kishida faction for more than two years after assuming the party presidency. The LDP should start by observing the rules it has already formulated by itself.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 12, 2024)