LDP’s Decision to Take Disciplinary Action: Will This Lead to Party Revitalization?

Although the ruling Liberal Democratic Party appears to have taken responsibility to some extent for its problems of politics and money, dissatisfaction is still smoldering within the party because of the ambiguity of the criteria for disciplinary action. The road to party revitalization will not be easy.

The LDP’s Party Ethics Committee has decided on punishments for a total of 39 members of the Abe and Nikai factions for their involvement in the factions’ alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law.

Ryu Shionoya, former chairperson of the faction once led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Hiroshige Seko, former chairperson for the Abe faction’s upper house lawmakers, were given recommendations to leave the party because they were in particularly leading positions within the faction. Three others were suspended from party membership, 17 were suspended from party positions, and the remaining 17 were given reprimands.

In response to the recommendation, Seko submitted a letter of withdrawal from the party, which was accepted by the LDP. Shionoya, on the other hand, remains undecided on whether to accept the recommendation. If he does not comply with the recommendation, he will be expelled from the party, which would mean in principle that he cannot be reinstated.

Hoping the disciplinary action will mark the end of a chapter in dealing with the scandal, the LDP leadership intends to compile a draft proposal for amending the Political Funds Control Law and hold talks between the ruling and opposition parties. The LDP is also considering a new way of managing the party that is not led by factions.

However, the disciplinary action has created rifts within the party.

Kishida had said that he would consider how the 39 lawmakers accepted their responsibility as one of the criteria for disciplinary action. But in the end, he narrowed the list of those to be punished to lawmakers who received ¥5 million or more in unreported kickbacks from the sale of fundraising party tickets. There have been objections from within the party, such as, “What in the world is the basis for the amount of money set as a standard?”

The LDP’s code of discipline clearly states that lawmakers shall be given an opportunity to explain themselves before disciplinary action is taken. However, the party leadership allowed explanations only in writing. In his written explanation, Shionoya declared, “I firmly protest against the dictatorial management of the party.”

In the latest political funds scandal, charges for violating the law were also brought against a person formerly in charge of accounting for the Kishida faction, which the prime minister led for more than 10 years, and the conviction of the person has been finalized.

However, Kishida said that he did not personally fail to state revenues from fundraising parties in his political funds reports, so he himself was exempt from the disciplinary action. Some LDP lawmakers view this cynically as “a bit too self-protective.”

How does the prime minister perceive the disharmony within his party?

In the view of some observers, Kishida has driven the Abe and Nikai factions, which had been pillars of the political situation, almost to destruction. Such observers believe this will make it easier for him to exercise his own leadership.

On the other hand, it appears likely that the two factions, which effectively managed the Diet and handled other tasks, could be weakened, and the situation within the party could quickly become more fluid, making the base of the administration more fragile.

A mountain of problems still need to be resolved, such as the declining population and high prices. The government must also deal with the increasingly tense international situation. It can be said that Japan’s politics faces a challenging moment as to how to overcome this critical juncture.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 5, 2024)