LDP Members Upset With Penalties Over Fundraising Scandal; Negative Impact Feared on Upcoming By-Elections

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Liberal Democratic Party member Ryu Shionoya speaks at a press conference in the Diet Building in Tokyo on Friday.

Discontent has not abated within the Liberal Democratic Party over penalties imposed on certain members in connection with a fundraising scandal involving the party’s factions.

Lawmakers who have received harsh penalties have heightened their criticism, and frustration has also grown among other members of the faction once led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Many of the faction’s members were subject to disciplinary action over alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law.

Prime Minister and LDP President Fumio Kishida hopes to achieve reconciliation within the party as soon as possible, but there is no end in sight to the backlash. There are also concerns about the possible negative impact on three by-elections for seats in the House of Representatives, for which official campaigning is scheduled to start on April 16.

“The party leadership decided everything [about the penalties]. It’s like the Party Ethics Committee exists in name only,” former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Ryu Shionoya said at a press conference on Friday.

The ethics committee recommended the day before that Shionoya leave the party. He expressed his resentment, saying the penalties were predetermined.

“If the entire party is responsible [for this matter], I think the prime minister bears the responsibility,” Shionoya also said, questioning the fact that Kishida was not subject to disciplinary action.

Hiroshige Seko, a former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors, was also recommended to leave the party. At a meeting of the Abe faction’s upper house members in the Diet Building on Friday, Seko apologized, saying: “I have caused you trouble. I will do my best as an independent from now on.”

“It’s not clear at all what kind of acts are subject to the penalties. If this kind of thing is allowed to continue, it will lead to tyranny,” a lawmaker who attended the meeting said angrily.

The penalties varied among those who formerly served as the faction’s secretary general. Former education minister Hakubun Shimomura and former Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura have been suspended from party membership for a year, while a six-month suspension of party membership was imposed on Tsuyoshi Takagi, a former party Diet Affairs Committee chairperson.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has been suspended from party posts for a year.

Among four levels of penalties, a recommendation to leave the party causes greater damage to a person’s political career than a suspension from party posts. Concerns were therefore voiced at a meeting of the ethics committee on Thursday, with one attendee saying, “Division could be created within the party.”

At the meeting, which continued for about two hours, the ethics committee decided on the penalties for 39 LDP members. According to one attendee, some criticized the party leadership for rushing to end the matter, saying the committee should meet again.

During a session of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Cabinet on Friday, Kishida explained the four levels of discipline. “I don’t deny that there is a difference [in the penalties] between those who were in a position to correct the long-standing practice of failing to report funds and those who were not in a position to do so,” he said.

“The party made serious decisions that followed appropriate procedures,” Kishida added, seeking understanding.

Some LDP members dismissed the growing frustration, especially among members of the Abe faction.

“Don’t they realize that the entire party is suffering because of the Abe faction’s problems?” said a middle-ranking LDP lawmaker who does not belong to a faction. “If they’re senior members of the faction, they should accept the penalties quietly.”

If Shionoya decides to seek the reconsideration of his penalty, this matter is certain to be prolonged. With official campaigning for the three by-elections set to start on April 16, an LDP senior lawmaker said, “This could lead to a situation in which voters will see the party’s infighting.”