June 19, 2020
Tokyo- The arrests of former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, House of Councillors lawmaker Anri, over vote-buying allegations are expected to have a great impact on the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The two lawmakers, who have both seceded from the ruling liberal Democratic Party, were close to Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, and the opposition bloc is expected to grill the prime minister on the matter.
"I feel responsibility for having appointed (Kawai) as justice minister," Abe said at a press conference on Thursday. "I apologize to the people."
However, he declined to speak about the details of the allegations, and instead made a general statement on how all lawmakers must shape up.
The Kawais are suspected of having distributed millions of yen to local politicians to help Anri to win her first parliamentary seat in the July 2019 election for the Upper House.
The allegations, coming after the ordinary session of the Diet, Japan's parliament, ended on Wednesday, follow a string of policy missteps regarding the COVID-19 crisis and the resignation in May of then top Tokyo public prosecutor Hiromu Kurokawa, who was found to have played mahjong for money during the coronavirus epidemic.
The incidents have resulted in falls in public support ratings for the Abe government, which had been seen as unthinkable under his strong rule.
The latest turn of events brings the total number of lawmakers arrested during the Abe government to three, including former LDP lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto, who was arrested in December last year over a corruption scandal linked to an envisioned casino project.
In an attempt to rebuild his administration, the prime minister faces the issue of having to balance preparing for an expected second wave of novel coronavirus infections and reviving a weakened economy, neither of which is easy to complete.
Opposition lawmakers are ramping up their attacks on Abe.
The Diet affairs chiefs of major opposition parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan have agreed to seek an explanation in the Diet from the Justice Ministry regarding the arrests, and to demand that meetings of budget committees in both chambers of the Diet be held with Abe in attendance.
"I question the prime minister's judgment in appointing as justice minister someone who took actions that can lead to arrest immediately before," CDPJ chief Yukio Edano said, noting that Kawai was appointed in September last year, just two months after the Upper House election, during which Katsuyuki Kawai allegedly distributed money to local politicians.
"It is a stain on Japan's history of constitutional politics that two current lawmakers were arrested as a couple," Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Democratic Party for the People, said. "They should resign as lawmakers immediately."
The opposition bloc will also seek to submit a motion urging the Kawais to step down as lawmakers.
Komeito, the junior coalition partner to the LDP, also criticized the arrested lawmakers.
"They caused people to be distrustful of politics, and it is truly, extremely regrettable," Tetsuo Saito, secretary-general of Komeito, told reporters. "If the allegations are true, they should resign."
At the press conference, Abe said that he has no plans of dissolving the House of Representative, the lower chamber of the Diet, for a snap election, but said that he "will push forward with (a dissolution) without hesitation when the time comes to appeal to the people regarding an issue to be tackled."
However, many in the ruling bloc believe that an early election for the Lower House is difficult given the state of the economy.
With the end of Abe's current term as president of the LDP in September 2021 fast approaching, moves within the party to prepare for the next leader may turn Abe into a lame duck. Jiji Press
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