EDITORIAL: Corrupt politics linger 4 decades after Lockheed bribery scandal
July 27 marked the 40th anniversary of the arrest of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka over the Lockheed bribery scandal.
Even after he was indicted on criminal charges, Tanaka (1918-1993) led a massive faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and wielded huge political clout by playing kingmaker. Since then, the landscape in Nagatacho, the political power center in Tokyo, has changed dramatically. Factions within the LDP have sunk into political irrelevance. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has acquired so much political power that many pundits are lamenting the lack of political forces that can pose a serious challenge to his leadership.
However, one thing remains unchanged in Japanese politics. It is the power of money that keeps breeding graft and corruption.
During the past four decades, a series of steps have been taken to tackle the problem. The electoral systems of both houses of the Diet have been reformed. The Political Fund Control Law has been revised to remove special-interest money from politics, while the guilt-by-association rule concerning elections has been enhanced.
But the politicians who created the new rules have installed convenient loopholes. The current situation is nowhere close to the elimination of doubt and the restoration of public trust in politics.
Just recently, Akira Amari resigned as economy minister over his dubious relations with a construction company. And a month ago Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe stepped down after he failed to offer convincing explanations about his seemingly inappropriate use of political funds.
Despite all these and other money scandals involving politicians, lawmakers, especially those of the LDP, remain reluctant to make any vigorous response to the deep-seated problem.
During their campaigns for the July 10 Upper House election, most parties other than the LDP, including the LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, the main opposition Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Initiatives from Osaka, promised to take measures to clean up the rot in politics, although their proposals differed in content and strength.
The promised measures included imposing stronger responsibility on politicians to oversee the acts of their secretaries, injecting greater transparency into the expenditures of political funds and state-financed expenses for political activities, and banning political donations by companies and other organizations.
But the LDP, which has Amari among its members and supported Masuzoe in the previous Tokyo gubernatorial election, made no reference to this problem in its campaign platform.
This kind of attitude only widens the distance between citizens and politics and deepens public cynicism.
Although the LDP won a major victory in the Upper House election, the ruling party will be long remembered for its failure to make a serious response to scandals involving its members and allies.
We urge the other parties, including Komeito, to make nonpartisan efforts to find common ground on this issue and create a situation that prods the reluctant LDP into action.
What they should do first is to make all flows of money into politics completely transparent and establish a system in which citizens can always check and evaluate the flows.
Tanaka left another big blot in the history of Japanese politics.
One and a half years before he was arrested, Tanaka was forced to resign as prime minister amid allegations about his shady financial connections. At that time, he pledged to “clarify the truth someday to win people’s understanding.”
But he died without carrying out his promise. Now, both Amari and Masuzoe remain silent about the allegations against them, apparently waiting for the storm of criticism to pass.
Nowadays, there is a growing wave of positive reviews about Tanaka’s political record, probably due in part to nostalgic feelings about his era, when the Japanese economy was growing rapidly.
But the dark role of big money in politics and politicians’ inability to be honest and straightforward with the public about money are both negative legacies from the era that still haunt Japanese politics 40 years after the downfall of the powerful, but corrupt politician.