Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Kishida's LDP reform?

Political Reform Headquarters Established Again

By Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
January 14, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president, has established in the LDP a Political Reform Headquarters [PRH, 政治刷新本]. The PRH held its first meeting January 11. The PRH must deal with two issues: the transparency of political fundraising and the legitimacy of factions in the LDP. With the PRH, Kishida is trying to present himself as the leader of party reform. The PRH, however, lacks an ambitious idea that would fundamentally change the LDP’s deeply rooted political culture. Thus, expectations for a new-born LDP are low.

In a press conference on January 4, Kishida announced plans to set up a body to discuss political reform in the LDP. Article 79 of the LDP Constitution states that “If necessary, The President, with the consent of the General Council (GC), may establish special committees.” The General Council approved the PRH on January 10. One of the members of GC, Shigeru Ishida, demanded that all LDP member in the Diet participate.

It is not clear how much Kishida was involved in the selection of the 38 members of the PRH. They have already invited criticism: ten members are from the Abe faction – the faction suspected of systematically distributing slush funds to its members. In fact, nine out of the ten members of the Abe faction on the PRH are suspected of receiving kickbacks from party ticket income. The Abe faction occupies more seats on the PRH than any other faction, and the same number of seats as the independents.

Kishida argues that a large representation of the Abe faction is necessary to reflect the composition of the LDP. However, whether lawmakers suspected of being involved in a scandal can discuss party reform is an open question. Asahi Shimbun reported two days after the PRH’s first meeting that nine of the ten members from Abe faction were suspected of accepting secret funds from the faction. Kishida has yet to put to rest doubts about legitimacy of the PRH.

The PRH will submit an interim report to Kishida before the opening of the ordinary session of the Diet on January 26. Kishida said at the first meeting: “The people keep a skeptical eye on the factions and the political funds of the LDP. The LDP needs to change itself to restore confidence and protect democracy in Japan.”

The PRH’s first order of business is to enhance the transparency of political funds. Some have urged amending the Political Funds Control Act in the next Diet session to lower the threshold for reporting the names of buyers of fundraising party tickets from ¥200 thousand or more to ¥50 thousand. Other reforms would include stricter penalties for violations and the loss of status for a lawmaker when his or her accounting manager is found guilty of a violation.

The LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, has demanded that the LDP’s fundraising reforms include disclosure of previously unreported expenditures by lawmakers of funds distributed by the LDP. There has been no discussion in the leading parties about a prohibition on fundraising parties.

Two independent members of the PRH have argued for the abolition of factions in the LDP. In the PRH meeting, independent member former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the abolition of factions would be understandable to the public. Another independent member, son of former Junichiro Koizumi, Shinjiro Koizumi, concurred.

To the independent members, factions are the source of the slush fund scandal. But most lawmakers believe that factions are necessary. The LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi argues that the factions educate young politicians, a task that the LDP as a whole has not taken up. Because the Kishida Administration relies on support from of the Aso, Moteki and Kishida factions, Kishida surely does not intend to eliminate them.

Other members have urged the LDP look back to the Political Reform Guidelines of 1989. At the time, public distrust in the party caused by the Recruit Scandal, in which realtor Recruit Cosmos distributed unlisted stocks to party members, the LDP restricted fundraising parties and demanded that the LDP president, secretary general and other board members leaving their factions.

But now, Kishida was the head of his faction until the slush fund scandal was revealed. Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Motegi continue to lead their factions. The faction leaders have argued that the factions are no more than study groups. That can only be true if their factions are independent of political fundraising, election strategy, and the selection of cabinet ministers or LDP board members.

Faction leaders also have said that political fundraising is a necessary cost of democracy. That could have been true before the LDP was established. But post-war Japanese politics is replete with scandals about secret funds, including the incidents involving Showa Denko, shipbuilding, Lockheed, and Recruit. The most notable reform came from outside the LDP: the Hosokawa Administration (9 August 1993 – 28 April 1994) created a subsidy for the parties in order to avoid secret political funds.

Former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi (30 July 1998 – 5 April 2000) established an Executive Headquarters for Political System Reform Headquarters (政治制度改革本部) in 1999. This “headquarters” had its name changed twice: Party Reform Executive Headquarters [党改革実行本部] (2004-2010) and Executive Headquarters for Reform of Party and Political System [党・政治制度改革実行本部] (2010-2021).

In 2021, Kishida again renamed the “headquarters” to the Party Reform Executive Headquarters [党改革実行本部]. So, what is the difference between the 2021 headquarters and 2024 PRH? The only explanation is that by establishing a new organization focused on "political reform" without any specific idea for party reform Kishida hopes to deflect attention away from his ailing Administration to the tainted LDP. He believes this will garner him the public’s support. Maybe

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