• Politics & Government

‘Politics-and-money’ Scandals in Japan Deal Another Blow to Suga Cabinet

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, center, speaks at a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday morning.

A series of “politics-and-money” scandals has dealt yet another blow to the administration led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which has already been criticized over its inept handling of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government and ruling parties will try to end the matter soon, but the opposition parties are stepping up their attacks. As this headwind picks up force, anxiety is spreading over the likely impact on the by-election for the House of Representatives slated for next April and the next lower house election.

“I won’t say that there will be no impact at all, but we must be fully aware of the matter and deal with it in the days ahead,” said Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, regarding the scandals’ possible effect on the management of the administration. Nikai was speaking at a press conference held Tuesday.

Hiroshige Seko, secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors, said, “It is important for all the members of the party to think deeply about our resolve to abide by the law and act accordingly.”

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was questioned by the special squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office regarding a pre-party dinner held on the eve of a cherry blossom-viewing event hosted by a supporters association of Abe’s. A former Cabinet minister said, “It is a grave matter that a former prime minister has been questioned by prosecutors.”

According to public opinion surveys conducted by various news organizations, the approval rating of the Suga Cabinet has been on the decline. The Cabinet’s decision to suspend the Go To Travel support campaign for domestic tourism was deemed to have come too late.

There was also public backlash over the fact that Suga dined in a group of eight people on Dec. 14, at a time when the government had asked for people to refrain from eating and drinking in large numbers.

A senior government official sighed, “Whatever we do now, we’ll be criticized.”

The politics-and-money scandals are yet another onslaught for the Suga administration.

Former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa on Tuesday resigned from the lower house, citing health reasons, in the wake of his alleged receipt of cash from an egg production company. Senior LDP officials are concerned about the by-election in the Hokkaido No. 2 constituency of the lower house, to be held following Yoshikawa’s departure.

In keeping with the Public Offices Election Law, the by-election will be held on April 25. If the lower house is not dissolved by then, it would be the first national election since the Suga Cabinet was inaugurated, and would be considered a prelude to the next lower house election.

The Hokkaido prefectural chapter of the LDP, which was chaired by Yoshikawa, held a meeting of Diet members at the party headquarters on Tuesday and unofficially decided to appoint Seiko Hashimoto, minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, as its chairperson to succeed Yoshikawa. The party hopes to decide on a candidate for the by-election as soon as possible.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, said at a press conference Tuesday, “It is unthinkable for Komeito to field a candidate,” indicating his party’s intention to watch what moves the LDP will take.

■ Opposition demands Abe testify

Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), told reporters at the Diet on Tuesday: “We want former Prime Minister Abe to appear before the Diet and explain. The excuse that Abe didn’t know [about the alleged payment of part of the cost of a dinner party] because his secretary lied to him won’t fly.”

The CDPJ intends to hold deliberations at both houses’ Budget Committee when the Diet is not in session this year, and to call for the Diet to order Abe to appear as a sworn witness. Jun Azumi, the chairperson of the Diet Affairs Committee of the CDPJ, held talks with his LDP counterpart, Hiroshi Moriyama, on Tuesday and asked for Abe and Yoshikawa to explain the matter at a Budget Committee meeting of both houses.

Following the talks, Moriyama told reporters that summoning Abe as a sworn witness is “hardly appropriate.” The LDP intends to respond to the call to summon Abe when the investigation by the special squad of the prosecutors’ office has concluded. But the party assumes Abe will appear, for example, at a board of directors meeting of the Committee of Rules and Administration of both houses, and not as a sworn witness before the Diet.