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Kishida becomes first PM at ethics panel, apologizes amid funds scandal

By Jiang Xueqing in Tokyo | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-29 19:56

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a parliamentary ethics committee, in Tokyo, Japan, Feb 29, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida apologized on Thursday for eroding public trust in politics amid a political funds scandal within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, as he becomes the first incumbent prime minister to appear before a parliamentary ethics panel.

Addressing the panel, Kishida said, "As LDP president, I offer sincere apologies for the erosion of public trust in politics caused by issues surrounding the political funds of LDP factions."

The panel is also hearing explanations from five other LDP lawmakers, including former economy and industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and former chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

The investigation focuses on allegations that numerous LDP lawmakers failed to accurately report income from fundraisers and received kickbacks. Many of these lawmakers were affiliated with a faction formerly led by the late former prime minister Shinzo Abe.

During a televised session of the lower house ethics committee, Kishida said he is also committed to amending the political fund's control law to prevent similar scandals from occurring in the future.

Former prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, a member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, emphasized the significant political responsibility borne by all implicated lawmakers in the scandal. He urged Kishida to demonstrate leadership by holding them accountable.

However, some experts believe that Kishida will not delve any further into the slush funds scandal than he is currently doing.

Although there is a possibility that the national tax authorities will conduct an investigation, no politically damaging actions, such as disciplinary measures, will be taken against the executives of the factions involved in the scandal, said Ukeru Magosaki, co-representative of the Association for Inheriting and Propagating the Murayama Statement.

"The use of policy activity funds and confidential business expenses will not be disclosed. In other words, neither the Kishida administration nor the LDP will take any effective measures to resolve the people's anger and dissatisfaction," Magosaki said.

Kishida is opposed to prohibiting companies from engaging in political activities, said Shigeaki Koga, a political and economic commentator who is also a former official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

"For the LDP, maintaining power and vested interests by receiving money and votes from corporations and organizations, and in return, providing subsidies, public works projects, tax cuts, and a regulatory environment for them, is the essence of LDP politics. If this is breached, they will hardly be able to survive," Koga said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, one of the major newspapers in Japan.

A survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun on Feb 17 and 18 showed that the approval rating for the Kishida cabinet dropped by 7 percentage points from the previous survey in January to 14 percent, while the disapproval rating increased by 10 percentage points to 82 percent.

During the same period, the support rate for the Liberal Democratic Party also dropped by 7 percentage points to 16 percent, according to the survey.

When the sum of the government's approval rating and the ruling party's approval rating falls below 50 percent, the government enters a crisis zone. However, in the Mainichi Shimbun survey, the sum is 30 percent, indicating a situation close to suffocation, Koga said.

"In the next election, there is a possibility that the LDP will collapse, leading to a change in government," he said.


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