Published: 19:04, June 13, 2024
Japanese cabinet losing public support amid push for controversial bill
By Jiang Xueqing in Tokyo

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (front) answers questions during a session of the lower house special committee on political reform at parliament in Tokyo in Tokyo on June 5, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

The approval rating of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet fell further in June, indicating that a controversial attempt by his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to revise political funding controls in response to its slush fund scandal has not been well received by the public.

According to a Jiji Press survey released on Thursday, Kishida’s cabinet approval rating decreased by 2.3 percentage points from the previous month to 16.4 percent — the lowest level since the LDP returned to power in 2012.

Opposition party lawmakers and experts have raised concerns over loopholes in a bill proposed by the Kishida-led LDP to revise the Political Funds Control Act.

On June 6, the bill was passed by the House of Representatives, the lower house of Japan’s Diet. It is expected to be passed into law during the current parliamentary session, which is scheduled to end on June 23.

Substantive deliberations on the bill in a Special Committee on Political Reform in the House of Councillors, the upper house of the Diet, began on Monday.

The political funding reform proposal submitted by the LDP cannot prevent incidents like the recent slush fund and tax evasion scandal, Fujita said, noting that the essence of the proposal is “deception, trickery, and fraud”

Michiya Haga, a member of the House of Councillors from the Democratic Party For the People, pointed out that the LDP’s bill is full of loopholes.

Haga said these include the plan for politicians to explain how they spent funds by being required to disclose receipts for policy activity expenses but only after 10 years have passed.

Haga pointed out that allowing such a long delay in reporting is open to abuse and will do little to quiet public anger over slush funds.

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Tomoko Tamura, chairperson of the Japanese Communist Party, said if the disclosure of policy activity expenses only happens 10 years later then voters will not be able to check how the politicians are spending money before the next election.

Toru Azuma from the Japan Innovation Party questioned the ruling party’s plan to disclose receipts related to policy activity expenses 10 years on and proposed full disclosure without any redactions.

Jun Azumi, chairperson of the Constitutional Democratic Party’s Diet Affairs Committee, told reporters that the LDP’s bill was hastily presented and done so at the last minute, with many key points still under consideration.

Takakage Fujita, president of the Alliance to Stop the Impermissible Acts of Slush Fund and Tax Evasion by the LDP, was also critical of the 10-year delay.

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“Specifically, the proposal to disclose receipts for policy activity expenses 10 years later is a sham. By that time, the relevant Diet members may have passed away or retired,” Fujita said.

“Even if fraud is discovered 10 years later, the statute of limitations under criminal law will often have expired, making it impossible to pursue the case. The public will also likely have forgotten about it.”

Although it may be reasonable to disclose significant information related to national secrets only after 10 years have passed, the food and drink expenses of lawmakers do not qualify as state secrets, Fujita said.

The political funding reform proposal submitted by the LDP cannot prevent incidents like the recent slush fund and tax evasion scandal, Fujita said, noting that the essence of the proposal is “deception, trickery, and fraud.”

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To genuinely prevent incidents like the LDP’s recent slush fund and tax evasion scandal, Fujita urged a complete ban on corporate and organizational donations and a complete ban on political fundraising parties.

Karin Amamiya, a Japanese writer and social activist, said the bill is clear evidence that the LDP cannot self-regulate.

“It is evident that the ruling party is underestimating the public, so I think its approval ratings will drop even further,” she said.

The LDP amended its original bill to include demands from Komeito, its junior coalition partner, and the Japan Innovation Party.

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The bill requires lawmakers to create a document verifying the contents of their political funds reports, a change aimed at introducing a system of “guilt by association”, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

The threshold for disclosing the names of buyers who purchase tickets to political fundraising events will be lowered from 200,000 yen ($1,272) under the current law to purchases above 50,000 yen.