Kawai’s Future in Question after Guilty Ruling in Vote-buying Case

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Tokyo District Court in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

It has been recognized that the purpose of distributing large sums of cash to local assembly members was to get herself elected. This is a crime that shakes the foundations of democracy, and as an incumbent member of the Diet, she bears a heavy responsibility.

In a large-scale vote-buying case involving the 2019 House of Councillors election, the Tokyo District Court sentenced upper house member Anri Kawai to one year and four months in prison, suspended for five years, for violating the Public Offices Election Law.

The ruling recognized that between March and May of 2019, Kawai conspired with her husband, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, to provide a total of ¥1.6 million to four local assembly members as compensation for gathering votes.

Anri Kawai claimed that the money was “congratulatory or encouragement gifts” for local elections, but the court rejected this claim. This was a natural decision in light of the fiercely contested election with the division of the conservative force and the timing of the cash provisions.

During the trial, local assembly members and others gave vivid testimony about the circumstances of the cash provisions and other matters. They said that Kawai refused to accept receipts and asked them afterward to adjust their stories for her. Her bare-knuckled ways were nothing but astonishing.

If the ruling is finalized, Kawai’s election will become invalid and she will lose her job. In a case of illegal payments to campaign workers, her secretary’s guild ruling has been finalized, and the Hiroshima High Public Prosecutors Office has filed a lawsuit to invalidate her election under the guilt-by-association system.

Anri Kawai continues to receive a large amount of government funds, including a monthly salary of over ¥1 million and biannual allowances. However, ever since the incident emerged, she has been absent from the Diet and it can hardly be said that she is fulfilling her responsibilities as a member of the Diet.

There are calls from the ruling parties and her home turf of Hiroshima for her to resign. Although she is still at the district court trial stage, shouldn’t she decide herself whether or not to step down?

Even though she has already left the Liberal Democratic Party, the party bears a great deal of responsibility as it encouraged her to run in the election. The party needs to explain the circumstances around a large amount of party funds being provided to her.

The ruling concluded that Katsuyuki Kawai “planned and managed the entire cash provision.”

Katsuyuki Kawai is currently being tried on charges of bribing 100 people, including the four people to whom Anri Kawai provided cash, for a total of ¥29 million. Like Anri, Katsuyuki has denied any intention to bribe and has pleaded not guilty, but it seems that he has been driven into a corner.

On the other hand, it is hard to understand why no criminal action has been taken against the local assembly members and others who received the cash.

Voters’ distrust of politics will only increase if the punishment is vague. It may even raise suspicion that the assembly members who received the money may have testified in favor of the prosecutors in order to avoid criminal liability. The prosecutors should promptly decide on the punishment to seek and reveal the results.