Ambiguous Agreement Between Japan Ruling Parties Leaves Room for Movement; LDP Aims to Create Rift in Opposition Bloc During Talks

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, right, and Komeito Secretary General Keiichi Ishii, left, sign an agreement on the parties’ proposals on revisions to the Political Funds Control Law at the Diet on Thursday.

The ink is barely dry on the ruling coalition parties’ agreement on proposed revisions to the Political Funds Control Law, but ambiguities and a lack of detail are raising questions about how the deal will stand up in upcoming talks with the opposition parties.

The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito signed the deal on Thursday. The LDP accepted Komeito’s demands for the most part, but its insistence on leaving room for negotiations in discussions with the opposition parties resulted in leaving disagreements on certain revisions.

Given that opposition parties are poised to step up attacks over the LDP’s perceived lack of willingness to carry out reforms, upcoming discussions between the ruling and opposition parties will likely be rocky.

LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi looked relieved that the ruling parties had reached an agreement.

“There were differences in opinions regarding certain parts, but we filled most of the gaps. This can be highly rated,” Motegi said during a press conference at party headquarters on Thursday after talks with his Komeito counterpart, Keiichi Ishii.

Discussions on revisions to the political funds law will be a major focus of the latter half of the ongoing Diet session, following revelations that several LDP factions had routinely violated the law for years. The LDP will not be able to avoid a barrage of criticism during these discussions. Compiling this proposal with Komeito had been an urgent task for the LDP as it sought to galvanize the coalition partners’ unity before facing the opposition parties.

Komeito also had been pressing the LDP to boldly address the political funds issue in a bid to dispel widespread public distrust of politics.

“This agreement will become the first step to restoring trust,” Ishii told reporters after his talks with Motegi.

From the outset, the ruling parties had indicated only a general policy direction on matters on which they did not fully see eye to eye and had put reaching a consensus on the back burner.

Both parties were unable to reach a compromise on how far to lower the threshold at which the names of fundraising party ticket buyers would be disclosed. The agreement contained no mention of a specific amount in this regard.

Another sticking point was the disclosure of the use of political activity expense funds provided by parties to individual lawmakers. The LDP insisted that these expenses should be made public only by category when received by lawmakers. There were concerns that political activities could be disrupted by disclosing details that Diet members preferred to keep from becoming public, such as providing funds to fellow lawmakers under the name of mid-summer greetings.

Ultimately, the LDP accepted Komeito’s proposal that all party lawmakers who receive the funds submit statements reporting how the money was spent. However, the LDP had reservations about releasing detailed information on the usage, so the finer points of this issue remain to be ironed out.

Voices of discontent

The LDP was in a quandary on these political funds reforms. Although the party feared that its public support would evaporate unless it showed a willingness to implement reforms, there also was deep-rooted concern that making too many concessions during negotiations with Komeito could force the party to make additional compromises with opposition parties during talks, which have yet to get into full swing.

“If we agreed to details in line with the Komeito proposals, that would’ve become the starting point for negotiations with the opposition parties,” a former cabinet minister told The Yomiuri Shimbun. “The demands put forward by the opposition parties would escalate further.”

Komeito also stuck to its hard-line approach. Some party members even were prepared to breakaway from the LDP on this issue, given that relinquishing easy concessions to the LDP could give the impression that Komeito was half-hearted about these reforms.

“If the LDP won’t make any compromises, we should put forward our own demands during the negotiations involving the ruling and opposition parties,” said one attendee at a meeting of Komeito leaders.

Some LDP members were frustrated that the ruling parties’ proposal was “incomplete.” One mid-ranking LDP member lamented, “The public will be fed up and wonder what we’ve been doing.”

Ishin holds key

With the ruling parties’ proposal signed, the stage will now shift to discussions between the ruling and opposition parties. Much will hinge on the approach adopted by opposition party Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party).

Senior LDP leaders met with Ishin Diet affairs chief Takashi Endo at the Diet on Thursday in a bid to curry favor.

“We’d like to have a serious discussion with you regarding revisions to the law,” one LDP attendee said to Endo.

The LDP apparently aims to bring Ishin into the fold to create a rift in the opposition bloc and move ahead with the reforms based on the proposal crafted by the ruling parties.