【Editorial】Punishing Diet Members:Public Must Pay Attention to How Responsibility Is Handled 

Original】Mar 29, 2024

The focus of the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) political funds scandal has shifted to party members facing disciplinary action, following hearings by the Deliberative Councils on Political Ethics (DCPE) held in the House of Representatives and House of Councillors during the ordinary session of the Diet.

Among them, Abe faction leaders are being questioned by senior party officials, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (Party President), on grounds that they were most responsible for undermining public trust in politics. It is believed that they will face serious disciplinary measures in early April, including loss of party recognition in the next general elections.

Some Aspects Have Already Been Disposed of

However, an investigation by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigations unit has resulted in criminal charges against the treasurer of the Kishida faction, of which the prime minister himself was faction leader.

The distinction between those who will punish and those who will be punished within the party is strongly opposed by senior Abe faction officials. The public needs to pay close attention to how these punishments are being handled.

When reports of the prosecutors’ investigation broke out last year, the names of the “Big Five”—core representatives of the Abe faction— were revealed in media outlets. This was the beginning of social sanctions for the faction.

Perhaps in haste to respond due to dangerously low approval ratings, Kishida effectively replaced four ministers and five vice ministers of the Abe faction without waiting for the results of the investigation. Three of the Big Five not included in these dismissals also resigned from their positions in the Diet and party leadership. The five men likely have already been dealt with appropriately.

Senior members of the Abe faction continued to attend the DCPE proceedings in full disclosure. Consequently, the blame for kickbacks from fundraising party ticket sales was placed on four officials who discussed how to deal with the practice in August 2022 after then-Abe faction leader, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had ordered the suspension of such kickbacks earlier that April.

Although none of the four testified that the decision to reinstate the kickbacks was made during the August discussion, party officials conducted additional hearings this time in order to give the four the heaviest punishment based on circumstantial evidence that the refunds had been restored.

Ratings for both the administration and the LDP are at rock bottom. Though not supported by the public, Kishida will be making a state visit to the U.S., including a Japan-U.S. summit meeting with President Biden on April 10.

Kishida, who responded to Biden’s invitation, is now on his way to the diplomatic arena where he will be treated with the utmost respect and dignity by the government. His visit to the U.S. may lead to a bottoming out of the administration’s approval rating, but three of the above-mentioned four House of Representatives members will face the humiliation of not being recognized by their party with no chance for proportional revival in the general election that may be held a month from now. Their fate is extremely contrasting. How should the public view this?

Public Must Heighten Its Sense of Urgency

The year 2024 began with the presidential election in Taiwan, followed by the recently concluded presidential election in Russia, and the general election in South Korea on April 10. Voting for the House of the People, the lower house of bicameral Parliament of India—a leading country in the Global South—will also take place over the period spanning April to June 4. The highlight of the global elections will be the U.S. presidential election in November.

As elections continue in countries critical to Japan’s security policy, Japanese politics tend to be glued to domestic affairs, with no signs of a sufficient and strategic antenna for international affairs. The Japanese people, as sovereign citizens, must face politics with a heightened sense of alertness and also be prepared for the approaching snap general election.

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