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Editorial: Trade minister’s resignation reveals significant lack of respect for norms

  • October 26, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:28 p.m.
  • English Press

As a person involved in politics, he lacked respect for norms. His resignation is unavoidable.


Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara has resigned over a scandal related to money in politics. Opposition parties had taken a stance of refusing to take part in Diet deliberations if Sugawara’s explanations were insufficient. He was effectively sacked.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “I bear responsibility for the appointment. I deeply apologize.” A key Cabinet member leaving only 1½ months after the new Cabinet was launched could deal a blow to Abe. His administration needs to make efforts to regain public trust by straightening itself out to run the government.


A report by the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine triggered Sugawara’s resignation. It reported that his state-paid secretary attended a wake for one of his supporters in his constituency of Nerima Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 17 and handed a condolence money envelope containing ¥20,000 to the bereaved family.


The Public Offices Election Law prohibits politicians from making donations to voters in their constituencies, in principle. They are allowed to make condolence visits and offer condolence money personally as such an action is regarded as unavoidable under social conventions. However, it is a violation of the law if a secretary of a politician hands over condolence money.


Sugawara admitted that his secretary gave condolence money to the family of the deceased supporter. He said he himself attended the funeral the following day and offered condolence money again. He explained that the bereaved family later returned one of the condolence money envelopes to him.


In the Diet, Sugawara was right in the middle of being grilled by the opposition camp for allegedly sending crabs, melons and other gifts to voters more than 10 years ago.


If the allegation is true, his lack of respect for the law is evident. His ability to manage secretaries has also been called into question.


Regarding the reason for his resignation, Sugawara said, “I don’t want my problems to stall Diet deliberations.” He should fulfill his accountability over his alleged misconduct rather than drawing a curtain over it by resigning.


The economy, trade and industry minister, who is in charge of electric power policy, is in the position of investigating the scandal in which senior officials of Kansai Electric Power Co. received large sums of money and gifts, and thoroughly preventing a recurrence of similar incidents. It can be said that Sugawara would have found it difficult to fulfill his duties as he faced money-related allegations himself.


Among Abe Cabinet members, former Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resigned after giving out uchiwa handheld fans carrying a portrait of herself in her constituency. Last year, Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the Democratic Party for the People, was questioned about the manner of the outlay of condolence money.


Lawmakers must strive to conduct fair political activities based on the intent of the Public Offices Election Law so as not to raise suspicions from the public. It is also crucial to enhance the transparency of political funds and manage them appropriately.


Hiroshi Kajiyama, former state minister for regional revitalization, has replaced Sugawara to become the new economy, trade and industry minister.


The minister needs to build a stable power supply system by resuming operations of nuclear power plants and promoting the use of renewable energy. He must also strenuously tackle the issue of tariffs on automobiles, which have been left unresolved in the Japan-U.S. trade negotiations.

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