(Asahi: February 28, 2015 – p. 2)
The senior officials of the Abe administration are concerned that the issue of “politics and money” will lead to a domino effect of ministers giving up their cabinet posts. Because Koya Nishikawa was forced to step down from his post as agriculture minister even though he denied the illegality of the political donations he had received, government officials feel that “the hurdles for resignation of a cabinet member have now been lowered further,” in the words of an executive official in the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei].
Eventually, Prime Minister Abe could face further questioning over his responsibility for appointing Nishikawa as a minister. If the opposition’s pursuit of Abe continues at the Diet, it will have an impact not only on the passage of the fiscal 2015 budget but also on deliberations on security legislation.
When a Democratic Party of Japan member at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session questioned him on Feb. 27, he replied by saying emphatically: “Some say that the Abe cabinet is made up of members who received shady political donations, but that is an outrageous assumption.”
A total of seven ministers, including members of the first Abe cabinet from 2006 to 2007, have resigned over political donation scandals while Abe was prime minister.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is also rushing to keep the flames at bay. When asked about the political donation issue involving Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki at a press conference on Feb. 27, Suga said, “He received political donations from a company without knowing that the company had received government subsidies. There is nothing wrong with that.” With regard to Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, Suga said, “Since she has said she will return the money, there is no problem.”
Suga asserted that “it is natural in a sense for politicians to receive donations without knowing if a company had received government subsidies.” When asked by a reporter, “Do you think there are limits to the legal system over political donations?” he replied, by saying, “I honestly think so.”
The Political Fund Control Law prohibits political parties and politicians from receiving donations from companies that receive government subsidies if they are aware of that fact.
A senior Kantei official said, “It is too much of a burden on lawmakers to find out whether each company receives government subsidies or not.” However, Yoshihisa Inoue, secretary general of the Komeito party, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said: “Since our work involves politics, we should be required to accurately understand the law and take responsibility for our reports.” As such, there are gaps between the views of the two ruling parties.
The opposition camp is also stepping up its pursuit of Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura. Shimomura is a “long-time ally” of Prime Minister Abe and served as deputy chief cabinet secretary in the first Abe cabinet. If his political donation issue becomes serious, it will deal a major blow to the Abe administration. (Slightly abridged)