LDP to Amend Its Constitution: Revisions Must Lead to Effective Party Reforms

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s aim to review party regulations and restore the public’s trust is understandable, but simply implementing intraparty measures will not lead to fundamental solutions.

It is essential to realize legislative reforms to increase the transparency of how political funds are handled and produce tangible results.

In response to party factions’ alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law, the LDP has compiled a draft proposal for amendments to the party constitution and other regulations. The draft proposal is expected to be officially adopted at a party convention on March 17.

The draft proposal would allow the LDP to take such steps as recommending that party Diet members leave the LDP or suspend their party membership if people in charge of the accounting for their political organizations are arrested and indicted on suspicion of violating the law. If the conviction of a person in charge of accounting is finalized, the most severe punishment for the lawmaker — expulsion from the party — would also be possible.

There has been a spate of incidents in which a criminal case was built against people in charge of accounting for factions and others, but senior lawmakers of those factions were not held criminally liable. Therefore, this drew criticism that they were evading responsibility. Clarifying the disciplinary actions to be taken against party lawmakers appears to indicate a strong sense of urgency.

The draft proposal also clearly states that factions would not be allowed to continue to exist, and that the creation of new factions would be prohibited. Activities as a policy group would be permitted, but political fundraising parties would be banned.

Factions have been criticized for influencing the allocation of cabinet and key party posts through their strength in numbers. On the other hand, it is also true that factions have played a role in nurturing new talent.

The specific measures to be taken by the LDP will be tested as to how well the functions performed by the factions are replaced and whether sound party management is achieved.

The focus will now shift to the debate over revisions of the law. The ruling and opposition parties intend to strengthen penalties for lawmakers.

The current law limits politicians’ liability to situations where they failed to exercise due care in the “selection and supervision” of accounting staff.

Coalition partner Komeito and other parties have proposed holding politicians liable if they are at fault in “either selection or supervision.” This will be an issue for discussion.

Another point of contention will be the review of money for political activities that many parties give their executive members and other individual lawmakers.

In the case of the LDP, tax-funded subsidies for political parties are disbursed to LDP lawmakers through party branches, which in turn disclose how the money was used, as the law requires. On the other hand, there is no disclosure requirement regarding the use of funds for political activities, which are funded by donations and party membership fees.

Opposition parties are calling for the disclosure of the use of funds for political activities or their abolition, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been cautious about reviewing the funds. Kishida has said that this is an issue related to the freedom of political activities.

However, the LDP’s funds for political activities amount to about ¥1 billion a year. Is it possible to obtain the understanding of the people without disclosing how such a huge amount of money was used? At the very least, the party should disclose the types of expenditures from the funds.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2024)