The Hiroshima District Public Prosecutors Office arrested three men including a state-paid secretary to House of Councillors legislator Anri Kawai and a policy secretary to her husband, former justice minister Katsuyuki Kawai, on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Act.
The arrested men are suspected of buying the votes of Anri’s campaign staff by paying them remunerations exceeding the legal limit in the July 2019 House of Councillors election, in which Anri was elected to the chamber for the first time.
The daily allowance for a staff member aboard a campaign vehicle is set at 15,000 yen or less, and paying in excess of the amount constitutes vote-buying. That’s plain common sense among politicians.
Vote-buying is, as a matter of course, banned under the Public Offices Election Act because it undermines fair elections. Anri’s campaign office is suspected to have paid 30,000 yen each to its campaign staff. If that’s the case, their actions are outrageous.
If the chief campaign strategist and secretaries are convicted of vote-buying, the candidate themself will be stripped of their elected post as a guilt-by-association system is applied.
The arrested secretary to Anri used to serve as an aide to Katsuyuki, and was in charge of contacting and paying remunerations to Anri’s campaign staff in the 2019 upper house poll. During questioning by prosecutors, the aide has reportedly admitted that he was aware of the illegality of his actions.
Katsuyuki’s accused secretary, meanwhile, was tasked with planning his stumping tours, among other assignments. Some people close to Anri’s campaign office have reportedly testified that it was Katsuyuki who effectively presided over his wife’s campaigning.
The Hiroshima district prosecutors’ office is urged to investigate the case inside out to get to the bottom of the scandal by revealing the roles Katsuyuki and the arrested aides played in the election and the true nature of the campaigning.
In the Hiroshima constituency, where two seats were up for grabs in the 2019 upper house contest, Anri was one of two candidates running on the ticket of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), alongside then incumbent upper house lawmaker Kensei Mizote.
Anri was fielded as the second LDP candidate in the district shortly before the campaign period kicked off, and was eventually elected, unseating Mizote.
Katsuyuki used to serve as an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and is also close to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. It has emerged that the LDP headquarters remitted 150 million yen to Anri’s camp as election funds — 10 times the amount for Mizote. Furthermore, Prime Minister Abe’s secretaries also joined Anri’s campaign team.
The LDP should also take the vote-buying scandal seriously as the party heavily backed Anri.
After the vote-buying allegations were first reported by a weekly magazine in October 2019, Anri and Katsuyuki Kawai were absent from an extraordinary Diet session. Their offices also declined to provide explanations when they were raided by prosecutors, on the grounds that the case was “under investigation.”
In their statements released by their respective offices upon the arrests of the three aides, both Anri and Katsuyuki declined to comment on the scandal. Their adamant refusal to fulfill their accountability, even in the face of these crucial moments, is unforgivable. What’s more, Katsuyuki used to helm the Justice Ministry, the stronghold for law and order. If the couple cannot give testimony proving their innocence, then they should step down as legislators.