Monday, June 10, 2024

Cooperation on Japan’s Political Reform Bill

Fraught Relationships

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.
June 3, 2024. Special to Asia Policy Point

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) President and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, reached a deal on a political reform bill with the leaders of Komeito and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) on May 31. Komeito and Ishin plan to vote this week for the LDP’s revised Political Funds Control Act (PFCA) in the House of Representatives. The bill is expected to pass the Diet by the end of the current session.
Kishida has been saying that he would make every effort to pass a bill in this Diet session. The agreement between the two parties is a step forward for Kishida in stabilizing his administration, which has been damaged by the slush fund scandal.
However, it is unlikely that the success in reaching a deal with Ishin will move the needle much on Kishida’s low approval ratings. An option for Kishida is to call a snap election at the end of current session of the Diet. This is not a realistic option as Kishida would need the basic support of the LDP, which he does not have.
A few weeks ago, the LDP and Komeito reached a rough consensus on a bill that would revise the PFCA. The agreement did not, however, resolve two issues. One was the yen threshold for the mandatory disclosure of the name and other details of a purchaser of tickets to a fundraising party. The current threshold is ¥200,000. The LDP would lower it to ¥100,000, but Komeito has insisted on a ¥50,000 threshold.
The second issue was regulation of the policy activities fund – money that a party gives to a lawmaker presumably for campaigning or other political activity, but neither the party nor the lawmaker is required to disclose any details about the use of the funds.   Komeito has urged that all the details of these funds be reported. The LDP has proposed only that the purpose of expenditures be disclosed. 
Since then and at the eleventh hour, Kishida has compromised. In a meeting with the Chief Representative of Komeito, Natsuo Yamaguchi, almost on the deadline day for legislation to be passed in the current session of the Diet, Kishida agreed to set the yen threshold for party ticket disclosures at ¥50,000. Kishida apparently acted on his own initiative without consulting LDP members who likely would have resisted.
Immediately after his meeting with Yamaguchi, Kishida unexpectedly met with the leader of Ishin, Nobuyuki Baba. Critical of the LDP’s response to the slush fund scandal, Ishin had submitted its own bill to amend the PFCA. The Ishin bill would require the disclosure of the receipts of the policy activity fund ten years after payments had been made. Kishida agreed to add this provision to the LDP bill.
“I offered an ambitious deal, because public confidence in politics would not be restored unless the bill passes the current Diet,” Kishida told reporters. The leaders of Komeito and Ishin were satisfied with each of their agreements with Kishida. “It was a great decision (of Kishida)” said Yamaguchi. Baba boasted that his party’s offer had been accepted by the LDP 100 percent.
Considering LDP’s lack of a majority in the Upper House, some cooperation with other parties is essential to move the LDP bill forward. With help from Komeito and Ishin, Kishida will be able to implement his promise to pass the bill in this session. For the LDP, the deal would allow fundraising parties and policy activity funds to continue albeit subject to some restrictions. 
Komeito has been reluctant to help the unpopular Kishida administration, but only through a coalition with LDP can the party exercise any influence in the government.
It was also unusual for Ishin to help Kishida. Ishin has distanced itself from the LDP to avoid becoming enmeshed in the inappropriate control of political funds. But the alternative to working with the LDP would be for Ishin to align itself with the opposition parties – the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) and the Japan Communist Party – a result that would be anathema to a conservative party such as Ishin. Defeats in the by-elections in Nagasaki and Tokyo in April also prompted Ishin to reconsider its stance as an opposition party.
The revised LDP bill does not include proposals from other opposition parties. The CDP has been arguing that the law should prohibit not only fundraising parties and the policy activity fund, but also donations from corporations and organizations. The head of CDP, Kenta Izumi, has said that the LDP bill falls short of fundamental political reform. The CDP is likely to criticize the cooperation among the LDP, Komeito and Ishin as “badgers in the same hole.”
The approach to the LDP bill will restructure political relationships in the Diet. Ishin is likely to move ever closer to the LDP. This will make Komeito uneasy. In any case, it remains unlikely that the cooperation among the three parties will rise to the level of electoral cooperation. Political coalitions often lead to integrated candidates in each electoral district. None of the three parties seem ready to do that.
While establishing a new cooperative framework in the Diet, Kishida generated more frustration in the LDP. On the day before his meetings with Komeito and Ishin, Kishida met with LDP Vice-president, Taro Aso, and Secretary General, Toshimitsu Motegi.  According to news reports, the party elders told Kishida not to compromise on the regulation of fundraising parties.
In the view of LDP members, Kishida decided to deal with Komeito and Ishin to preserve his administration at the expense of the financial needs of the LDP’s lawmakers. It is yet another unilateral decision by Kishida, which parallels with the dissolution of his faction in January and his attendance at the political ethics council in February. Kishida is becoming so isolated in his own party that calling a snap election is increasingly difficult.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Intelligent comments and additional information welcome. We are otherwise selective.