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  • Writer's pictureTéa Satariano

Recent Fundraising Scandal Threatens the Stability of Japanese Politics

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's cabinet, which has recently become involved with a financial scandal

Several members of the ruling Japanese party have recently become embroiled in a financial scandal that threatens their hold on Japanese politics (内閣官房内閣広報室, Wikimedia Commons)

An Essential Element: The Political Funds Control Act

Essential to understanding the complexity of recent controversies surrounding the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party—of which Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is a notable member—is understanding Japan’s Political Funds Control Act. The act bans corporate donations to individual lawmakers and requires that accountants for campaigns and lawmakers submit reports of income, political funding, and expenditures. The only loophole to the act’s parameters is through political officials selling tickets for fundraising events, which several members of Japan's ruling political party, including its active leader, the Prime Minister, have been accused of abusing in a recent political funds scandal.

The Embroiled Japanese Government

In reference to the fundraising event loophole in the Political Funds Control Act, dozens of lawmakers in the Prime Minister’s cabinet are alleged to have received proceeds from such events, effectively pocketing millions of yen while not citing the funds in official party records. Allegedly, members of the Seiwa-kai faction, alternatively known as the Abe faction, of the Liberal Democratic Party both concealed the true amount of ticket revenue from fundraising events and kept the money they did not disclose. The missing funds, approximately 500 million yen, have reportedly been transferred to several high-ranking officials in the party over the past five years. Several notable members of the Prime Minister’s cabinet, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Trade Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, and the party’s policy council chief Koichi Hagiuda, have allegedly each received large amounts of fundraising event proceeds, ranging between 1 million and 10 million yen. 

Legal Repercussions 

The Political Funds Control Act exists with a five-year statute of limitations, meaning that all allegations of concealing and transferring funds illegally before 2018 cannot warrant charges. However, that leaves the severe allegations of more recent concealment on the table for Japanese prosecutors, and a team of prosecutors is considering building criminal cases against accountants for two factions within the Liberal Democratic Party, as well as two lawmakers within the party suspected of receiving millions of yen as part of the scheme. It is estimated that prosecutors will come forth with the case in January, as it is customary for prosecutors to build criminal cases while the Diet is closed if politicians or their aides are involved in the legal matter. 

What This Could Mean for Japanese Politics

The Prime Minister admitted that he felt a strong sense of crisis in the wake of the scandal, but assured reporters that he would work diligently towards regaining the public’s trust in the Liberal Democratic Party. It is likely, however, that the allegations against his ruling political party will be too detrimental to recover from, and many feel the scandal may pose a challenge to one of Asia’s oldest democracies. Recent polls show extremely low public approval ratings for the Prime Minister: not only the lowest since the Liberal Democratic Party regained governmental power but also among the lowest for any modern Japanese leader.  

Japan has been rocked by political scandals in the past, with similar situations involving party factions and finances historically being seen to bring down administrations. It is a huge concern for top diplomats, as many worry that such a fate could await not only the Prime Minister’s administration but also the political scene of Japan as a whole. 

Since a poor performance from the Democratic Party of Japan in 2010, the Liberal Democratic Party’s only recent competition in terms of political power, the country has become largely beholden to the Liberal Democratic Party, as the majority of political leaders in both national and local government hail from this party. The Liberal Democratic Party has ruled almost exclusively for years, save for a short prominence of young parties designed as an alternative to the Liberal Democratic Party, outliving many other political parties first established following the period of United States occupation. As such, it can be said that a change, both within the party and more broadly in Japanese politics, is long overdue. 

Whether this scandal means the demise of the party as a whole, a shift away from dictatorial politics, or a simple change in faction power within the party is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain: turmoil lies on the horizon for the entirety of Japanese politics.



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