Kishida at Political Ethics Panel: Prime Minister Should Provide Meaningful Answers

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s willingness to help resolve confusion in the Diet by showing a good example is commendable. He needs to carefully explain the political funds issue, not just give superficial answers.

Regarding the Political Funds Control Law violation scandal involving the Liberal Democratic Party, the prime minister expressed his intention to attend a meeting of the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics of the House of Representatives, saying, “As president of the party, I will fulfill my accountability in a setting open to the media.” The council’s meeting will start today.

The ruling and opposition parties had previously agreed to hold a meeting of the council on Wednesday and Thursday to question five senior members from the two LDP factions once led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai. However, the two sides could not reach a consensus on whether the meeting should be open or closed to the media, and the Wednesday session was not held.

Due to the political funds scandal, the approval ratings of both the Kishida Cabinet and the LDP have declined significantly. Kishida likely decided to attend the meeting out of a sense of crisis that his administration would not be able to survive if he failed, as prime minister, to help the council to meet. This will be the first time for a sitting prime minister to appear before the council.

The prime minister’s intention to attend the meeting has prompted senior members of the Abe and Nikai factions to attend as well. They should provide concrete and detailed explanations of when they started making the “hidden funds” and how they used the funds.

Political reform is an important theme in the current Diet session. However, conflict between the ruling and opposition blocs over the political funds issue should not be allowed to delay deliberations on the fiscal 2024 budget proposal and important bills.

It is hard to deny that the prime minister’s own explanations have been insufficient, and that this has increased distrust in politics.

In the scandal, a faction that he had chaired for more than a decade until last year was also found to have made false entries in its political funds reports, totaling about ¥30 million, and a criminal charge was filed against the faction’s former accounting official. The prime minister has only stated that “clerical errors were repeated.”

The government’s ministerial code of conduct, adopted in 2001, stipulates that the prime minister and cabinet ministers refrain from holding large parties, but the prime minister held seven political fundraising parties in 2022.

However, the prime minister has insisted that the parties in 2020 were “study sessions,” repeatedly stating that he did not violate the ministerial code of conduct. This is not the way to regain the public’s trust.

In the negotiations between the ruling and opposition blocs over the council’s meeting, the LDP’s response became confused. The confusion reportedly was caused by the LDP leadership’s failure to adequately confirm the wishes of faction executives as to whether the council’s meeting would be held in the open. Many have voiced questions over the coordination ability of the LDP leadership.

It cannot be denied that the prime minister’s adherence to surprise tactics and his decision to dissolve the Kishida faction without sufficient consultation with senior party officials has dampened the mood within the party.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 29, 2024)