Ruling party rattled by scandals involving LDP lawmakers

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Kentaro Sonoura speaks to reporters at the Diet on Nov. 30.

Another resignation, another blow for the Liberal Democratic Party. Kentaro Sonoura resigned as a House of Representatives member Wednesday over a political funds scandal, following other money-related scandals involving LDP Cabinet ministers and lawmakers that were exposed during the extraordinary Diet session that ended on Dec. 10.

The situation has triggered concerns in the LDP ahead of local elections scheduled to be held in April.

“Betraying the trust of the people through political funds scandals is impermissible,” LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Koichi Hagiuda said to reporters at party headquarters on Wednesday evening.

“I want the party to straighten up and thoroughly reflect on this matter so it does not affect our performance in the elections for the local assemblies,” he said, in an apparent effort to mitigate the impact of the latest scandal to blight his party.

An official of Sonoura’s office delivered the lawmaker’s resignation letter to the lower house secretariat on Wednesday afternoon and Sonoura issued a statement in which he said he was “overwhelmed with shame.”

His decision to stand down before being forced out appears to be aimed at reducing penalties over violations of the Political Funds Control Law in consideration of the circumstances.

However, Sonoura’s resignation will undoubtedly have an impact on support for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet, which has been struggling in public opinion polls.

“This is a stinging blow,” a veteran LDP lawmaker said. “The headwinds against the Kishida administration will grow stronger.”

An expert in diplomatic and security policy, Sonoura had the trust of LDP Vice President Taro Aso, who has supported Kishida.

Sonoura was a member of the Aso faction who had been viewed as “cabinet material.”

“He was talented and we had high hopes for his future. This is extremely regrettable,” said Seiichi Eto, chairman of the LDP Ethics Committee that accepted Sonoura’s resignation from the party.

Carelessness rife

A spate of political money scandals came to light in the last Diet session.

Former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Minoru Terada was forced to step down after revelations emerged about erroneous entries in political funds reports. Kishida’s office attached receipts to an election campaign expenditure report that were missing information on the purpose of the payments.

Many opposition lawmakers also appear to have omitted information on receipts. Carelessness with political funding paperwork could undermine public confidence in politicians.

“These scandals are giving the impression that politicians are being slack at a time when the public is being asked to swallow tax increases to fund greater spending on the nation’s defense,” a ruling party lawmaker told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Opposition ready to pounce

Reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba’s local office has also become entangled in a scandal involving rent payments and the opposition is poised to challenge him over the matter in the Diet in January.

“Several issues that could stoke distrust of politics have come to light,” Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada said Wednesday. “We want to thoroughly examine these issues in the Diet.”

Regarding the Sonoura scandal, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) Secretary General Fumitake Fujita said, “He hasn’t provided an explanation for the huge sum of unaccounted-for expenditures. Even though he has already resigned, he still has a responsibility to explain what happened.”

Local elections are scheduled for April.

A by-election for Chiba Constituency No. 5, which is vacant following Sonoura’s resignation, is expected to be held on the same day as by-elections for Wakayama Constituency No. 1 and Yamaguchi Constituency No. 4.

With many voters taking a dim view of the ruling parties, a senior LDP lawmaker was concerned about the party’s prospects. “If other similar issues emerge, more people might turn away from the LDP,” the senior lawmaker said.