Liberal Democratic Party Convention: Prime Minister Displays No Sense of Crisis

The current situation does not allow for optimism that the prime minister can resolve things just by talking about his determination to restore trust in politics. In addition to clarifying the facts of the scandal, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must achieve results by punishing related Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and implementing effective legislative reforms.

The LDP has held its annual party convention. “If we do not have the trust of the people, there will be no politics. I will take the lead in rebuilding the party,” Kishida said in his speech, referring to the LDP factions’ violation of the Political Funds Control Law. At a meeting of secretaries general of the party’s prefectural chapters the day before the convention, the prime minister stressed that he would work to revive the party as if his life depended on it.

It will soon be two months since the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office concluded its investigation on the political funds scandal, but details about the circumstances surrounding the kickbacks from sales of fundraising party tickets are still unclear. The LDP has not yet devised concrete proposals to revise the law. As the party has sat idly by, support for the LDP and the Kishida Cabinet has declined.

The party’s local assembly members have been voicing their dissatisfaction with the party’s executive leadership. It is not surprising that Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, stressed that the LDP is facing its biggest challenge since it regained power in 2012.

At the party convention, the prime minister revealed that he had instructed LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi to take disciplinary action against the lawmakers involved in the scandal. It appears that Kishida intends to expel members of the Abe faction who are suspected of hiding a large amount of funds.

However, in another faction that Kishida chaired for more than 10 years through last year, a case was established against the person formerly in charge of the faction’s accounting for allegedly failing to list in political funds reports ¥30 million in sales of fundraising party tickets.

The prime minister has denied there was any wrongful intent behind the Kishida faction’s failure to report the money, saying there were repeated clerical errors. But how is it different from the Abe faction? When deciding on disciplinary action, Kishida needs to clarify the reasons and rationale for the punishments.

The prime minister has repeatedly expressed his desire for reform, but he has been vague when asked about specific measures, giving the impression that is someone else’s business. He may believe that the latest crisis was brought on by the Abe faction, but that attitude will not restore trust.

There are three House of Representatives by-elections to be held in April: Tokyo Constituency No. 15, Shimane Constituency No. 1 and Nagasaki Constituency No. 3. The LDP is reportedly considering losing by default in two constituencies by not fielding candidates for the Tokyo and Nagasaki constituencies because the party thinks it has no chance of winning there. This is simply a cowardly action for a ruling party.

Former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura, who once served as the Abe faction’s secretary general, has appeared before the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics of the House of Representatives, but no new facts emerged regarding the kickbacks from sales of fundraising party tickets. He also declined to explicitly discuss the involvement of former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who also once led the faction, in the political funds scandal. Shimomura only said, “I don’t know about that.”

This brings to six the number of former senior Abe faction members to appear before the Deliberative Councils on Political Ethics of both the lower house and the House of Councillors. All of them uniformly denied any involvement in the kickbacks. The councils probably have limited ability to clarify what actually happened in the scandal.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2024)