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Political Corruption

Political corruption has been a feature of Japan's political system since World War II. The period after World War II reformed and democratized Japanese politics in many ways, for example, the 1947 constitution placed the Japanese Diet at the center of the formal political system and in theory removed important powers from the bureaucracy. However, the movement of power to the Japanese Diet probably served in part to foster corruption in post-war politics since it created a group of policy-makers who would be subject to lobbying by private sector interests and dependent on those interests to fund the expensive political activities necessary to stay in office. At the present time, corruption in Japanese electoral politics involves violations of campaign finance laws and related bribery and tax laws. Further, big business has been a source of campaign finance as long as political parties have existed in Japan.

Japan has experienced serious problems with political corruption. Major corruption scandals impacted national elections in 1949, 1955, 1967, 1976, 1990, and 1993. To mention only the most serious cases, in 1976 Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei was implicated in a bribery scandal that involved the purchase of airplanes built by Lockheed, the American aerospace company. Tanaka was paid off for his efforts in making the deal in the form of several cash-stuffed cardboard boxes delivered to his private residence. He resigned as prime minister and was later convicted.

Political corruption in Japan is a particularly interesting case because of what it suggests about law as a sanction in a non-western context. The criminal justice system in Japan is reluctant to rely on formal sanctions, and companies engaged in illegal behavior are rarely punished severely. The reluctance of the criminal justice system to enforce corruption laws also makes it difficult to assess the extent of political crime. The likelihood of going to jail for political corruption is so low that imprisonment does serve as a sufficient deterrent when compared to the expected benefits of political corruption. In addition, Japanese citizens tend to tolerate corruption by elected officials because these officials share the benefits of their illegal behavior with constituents.

Politicians are tempted to spend as much money as possible on their campaigns, often in excess of official campaign spending limits. In Japan, for example, election laws prescribe a limit for the amount of money candidates can spend during the campaign period. The spending limit depends on the number of registered votes per seat and the total voter population of the electoral district. In the 1980s and early 1990s, candidates of the long-term ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) exceeded the legal limit by at least six times and as much as thirteen times. Most of these funds come from corporate donations. The workings of the system were illustrated, for example, in the course of investigations of the 1992/3 Sagawa Transport scandal. In order to secure a good position in the deregulating transport sector in Japan, the company Sagawa paid about 2.5 billion Yen (approximately 25 million US$) in illegal campaign donations to 200 Diet members and leading local politicians of the LDP and opposition partie.

Another factor that might lead to corruption in the context of party activity in parliament is party discipline. A strong party leadership that controls the activities of all party members in parliament can use its authority to further democracy and political and economic development, and to benefit the public good. However, party leaders might also decide to support the agendas of wealthy organized interest or certain social groups in exchange for pay-offs, and pressure party members in parliament to support this agenda. In Japan, the long-term ruling Liberal Democratic Party used to relocate political decision-making from parliament into party committees. Diet members would decide in their party committees what position to take about certain issues. In parliament, party members mostly voted unanimously along party lines. Often, business and interest group representatives were present at such committee meetings, and party leaders made it a habit to introduce young Diet members to interest group representatives to initiate mutually advantageous relationships.

Public funding for political parties can be a valuable means to support the development of competitive political parties and to ensure transparency and fairness in election campaigns. By making parties less dependent on large campaign contributors, public funding can also stimulate more policy-oriented activities by party leaders. Public subsidies succeed in stabilizing party systems and in supporting the development of party organizations. On the other hand, experiences from industrialized countries with a long tradition of public subsidies have shown that public funding does not always produce a reduction in campaign spending. In the case of Japan, for example, the Law on Public Funding for Political Parties originally stated that public subsidies should not exceed two thirds of the amount a party received in contributions in the previous year. To ensure that they would receive the whole amount to which they were entitled due to their share of vote in the last elections and their number of seats in parliament, Japanese parties thus started increasing fund-raising campaigns, an effect contrary to the intentions of the law.

Japanese politicians traditionally competed for Diet seats based on their ability to "bring home the bacon" especially to rural constituencies. As a result, Japanese infrastructure projects are notoriously wasteful (e.g., rural roads with little traffic, bridges to islands with few residents, and expensive seldom-used harbor facilities for small fishing villages). Japanese construction firms are very inefficient compared with their counterparts in the United States and other developed countries. Infrastructure spending channeled taxpayer funds to one of Japan's least efficient sectors. Japanese politicians and political parties are heavily dependent on contributions from Japanese construction firms, while Japanese construction firms are heavily dependent on public infrastructure projects. This co-dependency has caused numerous "pay to play" scandals involving large illegal campaign contributions and payoffs from construction firms to policymakers. The exposure of these scandals and widespread waste in infrastructure spending by the Japanese media forced the government to reverse its policy in 1997. By 2004, infrastructure spending fell to 4.8 percent of GDP.

Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose announced his resignation 19 December 2013. He stepped down after he admitted receiving 500,000 dollars from a medical group without registering the money. Naoki Inose said the nearly $500,000 payment he received was a personal, interest-free loan and tat the money has already been returned. Nonetheless, critics maintain the payment amounted to bribery and have pressured him for weeks to resign. The author-turned-mayor, who was elected a year earlier, apologized for the scandal. He portrayed himself as naive, saying he was an "amateur politician" and was not aware of all the procedures to which he was supposed to adhere. Inose says the Tokushukai hospital chain did not receive any favors for the payment. The company, which runs hospitals across Japan, had been accused of past electioneering practices.

Yoichi Masuzoe was recommended by the ruling parties of the Tokyo assembly -- the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito. Masuzoe was a noted scholar in international politics. On February 10, 2014 Masuzoe replaced former governor Naoki Inose, who resigned in December 2013 amid scandal. In the political arena, he had experience; he served as health minister for years. The main issue in the gubernatorial election was how to win back public confidence after Inose's resignation. With the residents of Tokyo supporting Masuzoe, it also meant they were showing their support for Prime Minister Abe's policies.

Tokyo's governor resigned June 15, 2016 amid accusations that he was using state funds for a lavish personal lifestyle. Yoichi Masuzoe, 67, had been battling the prospect of a vote of no confidence for weeks before submitting his resignation. All major political parties in the Tokyo legislature and agreed to submit a no-confidence motion against Masuzoe. The governor, who officially left office June 21, has been accused of excessive spending on international trips, including high-end resorts and spas, and purchasing art with official funds. Masuzoe denied breaking any laws but has repeatedly apologized for admitted questionable ethics. He was still entitled to a retirement package of over 200,000 dollars.

Abe, who has been in office since 2012, had enjoyed strong popular support, mostly for his pro-business economic reforms to stimulate the long stagnate economy. But the Japanese leaderís popularity plummeted to 36 percent in one mid-2017 national poll because of allegations that he helped a friend secure free land and approvals to establish a veterinary college, and that his wife made secret donations to an ultra-nationalist kindergarten that is accused of promoting bigotry against Chinese and Koreans. The prime minister has denied these charges but the perception of cronyism and corruption has seriously damaged his standing with the public.

The land was sold to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen in 2016 for a fraction of its market value. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie was acquainted with the school operator. After the transaction came to light in 2017, allegations of cronyism arose as Akie Abe had been chosen to serve as honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo planned to open. Abe was initially named the honorary principal of the school, but later resigned. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied any involvement in the land transactions.

School principal Yasunori Kagoike said 24 March 2017 he had received 1 million yen ($9,000) in an envelope from Abeís wife, Akie, on behalf of her husband. Abe repeated denials that he or his wife made donations to the head of a Japanese nationalist school at the heart of a political scandal that is chipping away at Abeís support.

On 09 March 2018, a key figure in the Moritomo issue resigned as head of the National Tax Agency. Nobuhisa Sagawa repeatedly defended the sale when he was in charge of state property at the Finance Ministry. He said he was stepping down to take responsibility for causing confusion in Diet deliberations.

Japan's Finance Ministry said 13 March 2018 that changes to 14 documents relating to the controversial state land deal included deletions of an episode involving the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The alterations were made after the Diet took up the issue. After media accusations of document tampering, the ministry submitted a report to the Diet. The approximately 80-page report details the findings of its internal investigation. The report identifies about 310 alterations. One of the deletions referred to a visit by Abe's wife Akie to the school and a speech she made in April 2014. Her name appeared in an attachment to official documents on the loan agreement for the land. It describes events leading up to closure of the deal.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for the Finance Ministry's tampering with government documents. Abe described the situation as one that may erode public trust in the entire administration. He said he feels keenly responsible, and wants to apologize to the Japanese people. Abe said he was acutely aware that the public is casting a critical eye on the matter, and that he would bear this in mind during its investigation.

Japanís Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was forced to apologize this week after a man he tapped as justice minister was arrested for alleged vote-buying. Kawai Katsuyuki was taken into custody along with his wife, Kawai Anri. Both are lawmakers who were members of the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It was the first time since World War Two for a former justice minister to be arrested, and the first time ever for husband-and-wife Diet members to be arrested together.

Investigators say Kawai Katsuyuki handed out about $220,000 to nearly 100 local politicians and other individuals to help his wifeís election campaign. She ran for an Upper House seat last July, and won. Prosecutors say she conspired with her husband to hand out an additional $16,000 to five people. Katsuyuki was appointed justice minister after the election, but was forced to resign when a weekly magazine broke the scandal last October. The Kawais resigned from the LDP. But sources said they had no intention of giving up their Diet seats. Katsuyuki denies engaging in any kind of illegal activity. His wife said her lawyer had advised her not to say anything.

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Page last modified: 06-07-2021 16:52:22 ZULU