• Political Series

Hidden funds: Consequences of a corrupt practice / Kishida’s Political Reform Plan Meets Opposition Within LDP; Aso Cautions that Administration Needs Factions’ Support

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, speaks at a meeting of executives of the Liberal Democratic Party’s political reform headquarters. LDP Vice President Taro Aso, right, and LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, are also seen.

Public distrust in politics has grown amid the ongoing scandal involving the creation of hidden funds by factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

This is the fourth and final installment of a series in which The Yomiuri Shimbun looks at the growing sense of crisis among LDP lawmakers, how the practice has been conducted over the years, and the challenges facing the legal system.

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A strangely tense atmosphere pervaded a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s political reform headquarters at LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Monday afternoon.

“Since my faction had to take responsibility for its acts, we decided to disband it,” Prime Minister and LDP President Fumio Kishida said at the meeting, explaining why he had decided to disband the Kishida faction over a series of political funds scandals involving LDP factions.

However, LDP Vice President Taro Aso, sitting beside Kishida, remained expressionless and motionless as he stared straight ahead.

“The government is supported by three factions, the Kishida, Aso and Motegi factions,” Aso is said to have told Kishida when they had dinner at a Japanese restaurant in a hotel in Tokyo on Sunday night. Aso complained about the decision of the dissolution of the Kishida faction without prior coordination and declared he would keep the Aso faction alive.

When Kishida met with LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, who leads the Motegi faction, at LDP headquarters on Friday, Motegi said dryly, “My faction will decide our own path by ourselves,” Motegi, staying in step with Aso, has no intention of dissolving his faction for now.

The dissolution of his faction is a major feature of political reform pursued by Kishida. However, the plan failed to gain broad support in the LDP and caused friction within the three-faction alliance that has supported the prime minister.

Since there is no prospect of the LDP factions all being abolished, Kishida is considering restricting the factions’ activities of raising funds and promoting personnel for key positions, aiming to reduce public distrust in politics. However, Kishida’s Cabinet approval rating in the latest Yomiuri Shimbun opinion survey did not improve but remained flat at 24%, bringing Kishida’s ability into question as he has failed to unite members of his own party.

When it comes to a possible revision of the Political Funds Control Law, there is a plan to lower the disclosure threshold for the names of purchasers of fundraising party tickets. However, many LDP members remain dissatisfied with the plan as one said, “Since many companies do not want their names to be disclosed, the plan will make it difficult to raise funds.” Under such circumstances, it is unclear how the planned revision will unfold.

Furthermore, the LDP, like other parties, is allowed to provide funds to individual member lawmakers to finance their political activities. The LDP’s ruling coalition partner Komeito and opposition parties are calling for parties to disclose how those funds are used, but LDP executives are wary, arguing that it could crimp lawmakers’ discretion in carrying out their political activities. “This is the last line that must be defended,” an LDP member said.

Kishida plans to extend the discussions at the political reform headquarters to include issues related to electoral system and Diet reforms. By doing this, Kishida tries to emphasize the fundamental reforms to the public. However, it is believed to be difficult to build a consensus among political parties including the opposition.

In the political reforms of the Heisei era carried out about 30 years ago, the LDP introduced single-seat constituencies for the House of Representatives and also advocated the dissolution of factions in the party outlines for the reform. However, issues of money and politics have continued to recur.