Lawmakers need to straighten up, avoid any whiff of scandal

The Yomiuri ShimbunIf suspicions are raised about certain political activities, they must be fully explained and any aspects that need to be cleaned up should be dealt with. Politicians must straighten up when it comes to their own behavior.

Toshimitsu Motegi, the minister in charge of economic revitalization, is being hounded by opposition parties in the Diet over a matter involving the distribution of incense sticks. Motegi’s secretaries distributed incense sticks and datebooks for House of Representatives lawmakers to voters in his home constituency, as an activity of the Liberal Democratic Party’s local branch. These items were distributed for three years from 2014, and ¥16,700 was spent on them in 2016.

The Public Offices Election Law prohibits secretaries and other staffers from donating something that bear a lawmakers’ name, or providing clues as to the name of the lawmaker, within a home constituency.

Motegi has denied any illegality has occurred, and said the items “didn’t bear my name.” Opposition parties have pointed out that Motegi is the head of the party’s local branch and therefore his name could be assumed.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, even if secretaries carry something from the local branch that do not bear a lawmaker’s name, it cannot readily be said that the name of the lawmaker can be assumed.

Although clearly unlawful actions have not been uncovered, Motegi must thoroughly explain his side of the story.

In 1999, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera was charged with violating the Public Offices Election Law by personally distributing incense sticks carrying his name. He resigned as a lower house member over this matter. The opposition parties will demand Motegi step down as a lawmaker, citing Onodera’s case as an example.

However, it is a stretch to put Motegi’s case in the same category as Onodera’s.

Voters’ awareness needed

Similar problems have flared in the opposition bloc. When Kibo no To (Party of Hope) leader Yuichiro Tamaki was a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, the party’s local branch that he headed paid for congratulatory or condolence payments. Tamaki explained that this included cases in which his secretary took condolence money to a funeral and these activities “were based on the Public Offices Election Law.”

It also has been revealed that a Democratic Party local branch headed by lower house member Shiori Yamao paid for condolence money and other things at funerals of constituents in 2016. Yamao emphasized that the view of the party’s lawyers is that such payments of a local branch “are not prohibited.”

If such excuses hold water, can the opposition parties really criticize Motegi?

There are calls within the opposition parties for the law to be revised. But there first should be discussions on rules that would not restrict political activities or tarnish the fairness of elections.

The important thing is that every lawmaker acts in accordance with the spirit of the Public Offices Election Law. Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi was quite right to say, “Rather than quickly talking about the legal framework, lawmakers must improve their own behavior.”

Urgent matters abound in national politics. There is no leeway to spend so much time on the issue of interpretations of this law.

In some regions, it is customary to consider payments by politicians on ceremonial occasions as entirely natural. Perhaps that is behind the problem involving the distribution of incense sticks. Voters also may need to change the way they think about this issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2018)Speech


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