The domestic political life of Japan in December 2023 has turned out to be very stormy. Events evolved then according to a scheme that almost completely corresponds to the famous Don Basilio’s “Slander” Aria from The Barber of Seville. At first, leaks about the concealment of some of the funds collected by the two largest factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party “fluttered a little bit” in the press.
It should be emphasized that there is nothing illegal in the practice of such collections in order to fund political activity. Technically, this is mainly done by selling complimentary tickets to a particular event of a “relaxing and entertaining” nature (for example, to parties) to more or less wealthy individuals. Who thereby satisfy their curiosity (vanity) by getting the opportunity to be present in the company of famous politicians from the ruling party.
In this case, the matter is the concealment of a part of such fees, which exceeded the legal maximum level of the party funds thus formed. This alone exposes the guilty persons to the risk of a term of imprisonment. But as the information “windmill” turned into a “trickle”, it turned out that a share of this “part” had not even been used to fund party events, but had simply ended up in the pockets of various level functionaries.
Having taken on a very bad connotation in this regard, this information quickly became known to “all (including parliamentary) people” and “exploded like a volcano.” In an attempt to prevent a “bomb explosion” with catastrophic consequences for the incumbent government, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida resorted to emergency surgery. Namely, three ministers and the Chief Cabinet Secretary, as well as five deputy ministers, who were more or less involved in the scandal, urgently submitted their resignations.
The vacated (and most important) post of Chief Cabinet Secretary went to Yoshimasa Hayashi, who had previously headed the Japanese Foreign Ministry. In his very first statement, Yoshimasa Hayashi said that he was taking control of the most pressing issues of the government’s activities related to work on the budget for the next fiscal year and the reform of the tax system. In addition, it was stated that the Prime Minister, who is the head of the LDP, would “reform the party structure.”
But all this did not prevent the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office from investigating all the circumstances of the case. The form of the investigation was particularly severe, meaning that the investigative teams marched into the offices in order to seize the relevant documents of the two mentioned LDP factions.
Thus, the scandal surrounding the ruling party and the current government has by no means been settled, and the mentioned prospect of a “bomb explosion” in the form of the resignation of the Prime Minister remains quite likely. Moreover, Fumio Kishida has actually resorted to “reformatting” the composition of the government for the third time in two years of his premiership. And he took each such measure in order to at least contain the continuous decline in popularity. Both his own popularity and that of the Cabinet of Ministers he leads.
He did this for the first time nine months after assuming the office of prime minister in November 2021, when public opinion polls recorded a drop in his support from the initial 65-70% to 50%. For the second time, Kishida was forced to do the same in mid-September 2023, when his rating fell by another 15%. And now, that is, only three months later, he has to resort to virtually the same procedure again. But the first public opinion poll after the implementation of that procedure recorded a further drop in this indicator to a level below 20% that is unprecedented for the entire post-war period.
The very fact that the continuous decline in the popularity of the incumbent Prime Minister during all these two years has in no way been positively influenced by the measures he took to change the personal composition of the Cabinet of Ministers shows the fundamental nature of the true causes of the growing discontent of the population. Which are triggered by one or another relatively minor “misstep” of individual high-ranking officials (the amounts of “pocketed” money are mostly very insignificant). The voters’ reaction, apparently, boils then down to this maxim: “Things are already not going well in the country, and then there are “these” crooks.”
If by the mentioned “things” one means the problems of a continuous decline in the birth rate and an increase in tension in the region surrounding Japan, which are becoming formidable, then the very existence of non-conflict strategies to resolve them is generally questionable. Because both types of problems run into the insufficient funding.
Roughly speaking, to solve the first one, it is necessary that there be more of money in the pockets of young people (although, of course, this condition is not the only one). While the second one requires emptying the mentioned pockets to a certain extent in order to be able to buy Tomahawks in the USA. Actually, the problem of developing an optimal tax policy, described by the new Chief Cabinet Secretary as urgent, rests on this contradiction.
And, of course, amounts required in these cases make the above-mentioned “hidden funds” of the LDP look ridiculous. It should be repeated that it is not them that annoy the population, but the fact that fundamental problems are not being solved or the process of solving them is being delayed. Because, again, it is generally unclear which course of action should be adopted.
The ongoing scandal with the “hidden funds” of the ruling party is a very serious challenge to Kishida’s personal political career. For it turns out that his obvious intention to continue it in the same position of prime minister of a country that increasingly identifies itself as one of the significant participants in the current stage of the “Great World Game” becomes compromised. And the two years of Kishida’s premiership have made a large contribution to substantiating such claims by Japan.
In the current unfavorable domestic political conditions, the minimum program for him personally, as well as the government and the LDP he leads, would consist in a more or less fortunate conclusion of the scandal in question. It will now be fully determined by the results of the prosecutor’s investigation that has begun. If this “more or less” happens, then the problem of Kishida’s re-election to the post of LDP president arises, since his three-year term of office will have expired in November next year.
It should be noted that due to the presence of a number of prominent politicians in the LDP, who moreover represent competing factions, the process of overcoming this barrier was quite difficult for Kishida back in the fall of 2021. At that time he was not yet burdened with the costs that accompanied the subsequent two-year activity as the head of the ruling party and the Cabinet of Ministers. Today, his main competitor may be Shigeru Ishiba, who caused a lot of trouble to the former chief of Kishida, the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
However, if this barrier is overcome, then in another year the next and decisive one will arise, related to the calendar date of the next parliamentary elections. Only a convincing victory for the LDP will guarantee the transformation of the current prime minister into one of the rare political long-livers in the mentioned position in post-war Japan.
Finally, it would be appropriate to speculate on the topic of who could be the one who is now quietly giggling, watching the “target of persecution undergoing all humiliation.” However, there is no available background for this, and the use of “general considerations” is not suitable in this case. It should be just noted that the current LDP opposition has not yet benefited from all this. However, the mentioned “someone” does not necessarily have to be located in Japan.
Therefore, NEO will simply continue to monitor the development and outcome of the political scandal discussed here.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.