Budget Committee Deliberations: Let Sense of Crisis Help Realize Political Reforms

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made his eagerness felt for reform in light of the political funds scandal involving factions of the Liberal Democratic Party, but trust cannot be restored unless he can turn his eagerness into action.

The test for Kishida is likely to be whether he will be able to implement the tougher penalties he promised in his remarks and to uncover the whole picture of the scandal.

Intensive deliberations on the issue of politics and money were held at meetings of the budget committees of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. At the beginning of the deliberations, the prime minister apologized for the LDP factions’ violation of the Political Funds Control Law and emphasized, “I will make efforts to restore trust with the determination to bring about a rebirth of the LDP.”

During the intensive deliberations, Komeito and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) pressed for the introduction of a guilt-by-association system, under which if people responsible for a lawmaker’s accounting are found guilty of violating the law, the lawmakers’ right to participate in politics would be automatically suspended.

The prime minister expressed a positive attitude toward the revision of the law to this end, saying, “I can relate to the idea that tough measures will deter violations.”

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has filed indictments against accountants and others of the LDP faction once led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one led by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, and one once led by Kishida. But no indictments were filed against any of the executive members of the factions. This is because, under the current law, lawmakers will not be held accountable unless there is evidence that they gave clear instructions or conspired to commit the violations. In this regard, many people are skeptical of the investigation’s results.

The prime minister expressed his understanding for the need to revise the law, probably because he believed that without establishing a mechanism to hold lawmakers accountable, it would be impossible to dispel distrust in politics.

During the deliberations, when asked how many lawmakers were involved in the opaque exchange of funds, the prime minister said, “Thirty or more members of the Abe faction and seven members of the Nikai faction have corrected their political funds reports,” and he indicated that more corrections are expected to follow.

The prime minister also revealed that he had instructed party executives to interview those involved in the factions in order to ascertain the full extent of the incident. Promptly announcing the results of the investigation is essential for restoring trust in the party.

Meanwhile, the prime minister remained cautious about reviewing how political activity funds should exist.

In the case of the LDP, political activity expenses are distributed by the party to each Diet member of the party from such financial resources as corporate and group donations. Lawmakers are not required to reveal how they use this type of funds. In 2022, such parties as the CDPJ and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) also allocated funds in this way, but the LDP’s total amount of ¥1.4 billion stood out.

In the wake of the scandal, the parties have shown mixed responses, with the CDPJ calling for the abolition of the system of political activity funds and Ishin calling for disclosure of what the funds were spent for. The prime minister only said, “I would like to discuss the matter with each party since the issue relates to freedom of political activities.”

The public’s view of politics is becoming increasingly severe. It may be time to change the practice of using funds that seem to symbolize the money-based politics of the past.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 30, 2024)