LDP Reform Headquarters: Implementation of Reforms Key to Restoring Public Trust / Legally Strengthening Penalties Also Indispensable

It is desirable to dissolve party factions, which have been pointed out as having various harmful effects. It is hoped that this will help the ruling Liberal Democratic Party promote its reforms.

However, the dissolution of factions itself is not the ultimate goal. The purpose should be to make the handling of political funds transparent so that party management will not be swayed by the influence of favors and money. For the LDP to restore public trust, whether it will be able to steadily implement reforms is key.

Ban on faction-organized parties

The LDP’s political reform headquarters, headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and set up by the party in response to its factions’ alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law, has released an interim plan. The plan clearly states at its beginning that the LDP will “proceed with efforts to restore public trust, with a determination to make a completely fresh start.”

The plan emphasizes wiping out the impression of factions as groups that focus on money and personnel appointments, and instead allowing them to be reborn as policy groups. It also includes a ban on political fundraising parties organized by factions, and a policy of barring recommendations from factions for appointments of key party and cabinet posts.

The ban on political fundraising parties is intended to cut off the sources of funding for factions. It is also important to change faction-driven personnel appointments, which tend to give greater priority to a person’s age and the number of times they have been elected than to their actual ability.

However, although factional dissolution has been raised as a topic to address every time a scandal occurred in the LDP, it has never been achieved.

In response to the latest scandal, Kishida announced the dissolution of the Kishida faction. The Abe and Nikai factions followed suit. The Moriyama faction, which had been considering its response, has also decided to dissolve.

On the other hand, the Aso and Motegi factions intend to remain in existence. There is a possibility that discord may continue to grow within the party over the pros and cons of the factions.

Regarding the transparency of political funds, the plan states that income obtained by lawmakers from political fundraising parties should basically be transferred through bank accounts for which records can be kept. The LDP intends to amend the party rules so that if prosecutors build a case against the person responsible for accounting in a lawmaker’s organization, the lawmaker who represents the organization can also be punished.

In the latest scandal, prosecutors have filed criminal charges against people in the Abe, Nikai and Kishida factions, such as those who have been in charge of accounting, but individuals who have held key posts in those factions, such as leader or secretary general, have not been charged. Many people were probably not satisfied with the results of this investigation.

Coalition partner Komeito and opposition parties, calling for the revision of the law, argue that if people in charge of accounting are found guilty, the legislators should also have their civil rights suspended.

Considering that scandals involving politics and money continue to occur, it is essential to toughen penalties to a certain extent.

Political situation may become more fluid

A political reform outline formulated by the LDP in 1989 in response to the Recruit bribery scandal said that factions should refrain from holding political fundraising parties, and also that they should dissolve.

As long as the LDP does not make clear the reasons for its failure to achieve those earlier goals and present measures to avoid making the same mistakes, the party will find it difficult to win public trust.

It has been said that party reforms this time may lead to a more fluid political situation.

In the middle of discussions at the political reform headquarters, which started at the beginning of the year, Kishida announced the dissolution of the faction he himself had led. This may have been intended as a surprise to maintain his administration, but it has not led to a recovery in its approval ratings.

In the first place, it makes no sense that Kishida, who had left his faction, decided to dissolve it. This could invite a misunderstanding that Kishida thinks he is still the faction leader.

This kind of behavior could raise doubts about whether Kishida really intends to carry out reforms.

There is smoldering dissatisfaction with Kishida within the Abe and Nikai factions, which decided to dissolve as if in response to the Kishida faction’s move.

During the about two years and four months since the Kishida Cabinet was formed, it has been mainly members of the Abe and Nikai factions who have done the hard work, including bargaining with opposition parties in the Diet and holding policy discussions among the ruling parties. If the cooperation of lawmakers from both factions is lost, the Kishida administration could come to a standstill.

There are growing calls within the LDP for disciplinary action against senior Abe faction members who were found to have failed to report large amounts of money in their political funds reports, including former LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. Kishida is apparently considering some form of disciplinary action.

Kishida faction owes explanation

The Abe faction executive members who received kickbacks for party income from the faction and failed to report the money in their political funds reports bear a heavy responsibility. It is quite natural that they should be punished.

However, in the latest scandal, a person who had been in charge of accounting in the Kishida faction has also been charged with violating the law by making false reports. If Abe faction lawmakers are to be punished, there could be an opinion that it is reasonable that Kishida faction executives, including the prime minister himself, should also be punished.

Regarding the Kishida factions’ alleged violation of the law, Kishida has stated that it was the result of an accumulation of clerical errors. However, he needs to clearly explain the difference between the false reports of the Kishida faction and those of the Abe faction.

Opposition parties are calling for Kishida and executive members of the Abe faction to be summoned as sworn witnesses at the ordinary Diet session that opens today (Jan. 26). Failure to fulfill accountability is unacceptable in any form.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 26, 2024)