One of Fumio Kishida’s first steps as new president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was to appoint Akira Amari, a scandal-tainted doyen, to secretary-general, the LDP’s No. 2 post.
Even though Amari has yet to clarify his responsibility concerning a money scandal that surfaced five years ago, he will hold sway over decisions concerning party funds, elections and policies.
Kishida pledged to show a “regenerated LDP” to the public after he was elected to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Still, Kishida’s choice of Amari, intended as a gesture to curry favor with influential party bigwigs, cast doubt over his commitment to reform of the LDP.
Kishida announced the new party executive lineup on Oct. 1.
He delivered on his campaign promise to promote young and middle-ranking lawmakers by picking Tatsuo Fukuda, who is serving his third term in the Lower House, as chairman of the General Council.
But he awarded other key positions to politicians who contributed to his election.
Kishida’s main aim was to secure the support of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who exerts immense influence over the largest party faction, and Taro Aso, who heads the second-largest group and serves concurrently as deputy prime minister and finance minister.
Amari is a close political ally of Abe and Aso. Amari’s key contribution to Kishida’s successful campaign was by acting as a liaison between him and the two powerful politicians.
Kishida named Sanae Takaichi, a former internal affairs minister, to chair the Policy Research Council in a clear gesture of deference to Abe.
Takaichi ran in the LDP presidential election with Abe’s full support. She also formed an alliance with Kishida for the runoff between Kishida and Taro Kono, the minister in charge of administrative reform.
In forming the new party leadership team, Kishida put priority on solidifying his power base within the LDP. He squandered an opportunity to take a first step toward his stated goal of regaining public trust in politics.
Five years ago, when Amari was minister in charge of economic revitalization under the second Abe Cabinet, allegations emerged that he and his aide had received cash from a construction company. The scandal forced him to resign from the post.
A criminal complaint was filed against Amari and his aide over a favors-for-influence deal. But prosecutors dropped the case, citing a lack of evidence to show there were violations of the law to penalize politicians for interceding with the government on behalf of businesses.
The law has been long under criticism for imposing excessively tough requirements to prove a suspect is guilty and also for having loopholes.
The fact that Amari was spared criminal prosecution does not free him from his political and moral responsibility to clarify the allegations.
But Amari has yet to offer a detailed account of what transpired.
When asked about his responsibility to offer a full explanation during an Oct. 1 news conference, Amari flatly rejected the call, saying, “I cannot offer more than the conclusion made by investigators.”
As secretary-general, Amari will maintain huge influence over the use of the party’s election funds.
His dismissive stance toward providing a full explanation about the scandal has dimmed any prospects for an effective inquiry into the party’s decision to provide 150 million yen ($1.34 million) to the campaign of Anri Kawai, who has been convicted of vote-buying before winning an Upper House seat in Hiroshima, Kishida’s home turf, in 2019.
In another questionable appointment, Kishida picked Yuko Obuchi, a former economy minister, as chair of the Party Organization and Campaign Headquarters.
Obuchi resigned from the Cabinet post amid allegations of dubious accounting practices by her political fund management organization. Her former aide was convicted of violating the Political Fund Control Law.
Kishida has cited the issue of “money in politics” as a key challenge for his party reform agenda and promised to provide conscientious explanations and secure transparency.
Reporters on Oct. 1 asked Kishida about the allegations against Amari. While referring to the decision by prosecutors not to indict him, Kishida said, “It is important for him to explain carefully if the public has questions (about the matter).”
Kishida should be true to his word and agree to an opposition request to summon Amari to testify before the Diet during an extraordinary session to be convened on Oct. 4.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 2