Japan Prime Minister to Appear Before Diet Ethics Council, Address Political Funds Scandal In Presence of the Media (Update2)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday he will appear before the lower house Deliberative Council on Political Ethics in his capacity as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to discuss issues related to LDP factions’ alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law.

It will be the first time for a sitting prime minister to appear before the ethics council. In response to Kishida’s announcement, the ruling and opposition parties have agreed to convene the council on Thursday and Friday and to fully admit members of the press.

Kishida apparently intends to break the deadlock with opposition parties by holding himself accountable, in order to pass the fiscal 2024 budget bill at the House of Representatives by March 2. That would secure enough time for the bill to be approved by both houses by the end of this fiscal year.

“As LDP president, I want to appear before the ethics council myself to fulfill my accountability in a manner open to the press,” Kishida told reporters Wednesday morning at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“I hope Diet members with ideals will honor their accountability at the ethics council and in all other forums,” he said, apparently urging Abe and Nikai faction executives who have been reluctant to appear before the council in front of the press to follow his example.

In principle, meetings of the ethics council are held behind closed doors, but other Diet members and members of the press can observe if the person to be questioned agrees to open proceedings and over half of the council members also vote in approval.

Five Abe and Nikai faction executives have offered to appear before the council, but they had different positions on opening the proceedings to the media. They include former Abe faction coordinator and former education minister Ryu Shionoya, former Abe faction secretary generals Hirokazu Matsuno and Tsuyoshi Takagi. Matsuno is also a former chief cabinet secretary, and Takagi a former LDP Diet Affairs Committee chairperson.

Also among the five are Yasutoshi Nishimura, a former economy, trade and industry minister; and former Nikai faction secretary general and former internal affairs minister Ryota Takeda.

Jun Azumi, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan’s Diet affairs chief, told reporters Wednesday that Kishida’s appearance before the council “is unrelated to the budget,” stressing that the opposition parties will not vote on the budget bill in exchange for Kishida’s attendance.

The ruling and opposition parties had difficulty coordinating the format of the meetings, and a broadly agreed plan to convene the council on Wednesday was shelved. Concerns are growing within the ruling party about the negative impact on deliberations on the budget bill.

At a board meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Wednesday, the LDP said it is “difficult” to accept the opposition’s request to invite as witnesses former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, former education minister Hakubun Shimomura and former LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda.

The LDP reiterated its proposal to vote on the budget bill on Friday, but the opposition parties rejected it, citing insufficient time for deliberation, and the two sides were unable to reach a compromise.