Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"Money and Politics" Shouldn't Take Center Stage
KURASHIGE Atsuro / Expert Senior Writer, Mainichi Shimbun

December 2, 2014
The "money and politics" season is upon us again. Two female cabinet members – the main attraction of the second administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo – have resigned. One was shot down over an erroneous entry in the political funding report concerning a trip to the theater arranged for voters. The other was criticized for distributing tens of thousands of fans illustrated with her likeness in her constituency.

As the pursuit of scandal proves to be an effective means of felling ministers, it breathes new life into the media and opposition parties. And thus the search begins for possible deficiencies in the political funding reports of politicians other than the two downed women, and parliament takes on the air of a police interrogation room rather than being a forum for political debate, as politicians are grilled over fresh allegations. The case of Defense Minister Eto Akinori is one example where the questioning has continued for more than a month since suspicious dealings were first reported, proving useful for both the opposition and the media as a scandal with a long shelf life.

In countries everywhere, there is bound to be a skeleton or two in any politician's closet. From morning to night, politicians come into contact with a great number of people, taking commemorative photographs with them, receiving petitions and requests, seeing to it that they are satisfied through appropriate channels, and accepting political donations and votes in return. And in any country, going after powerful politicians and dragging skeletons from their closets makes for an appealing performance of good over evil for the general public.

And so it is that once the political scene becomes ensnared in this cycle, it becomes difficult to break away. The public demands more, the media competes for exclusive news to meet that need, and politicians leak scandalous information on rivals to avoid attracting unwanted attention on themselves. This has happened in past political scandals, such as the Recruit or Sagawa Express bribery cases. Furthermore, the government report on political funding for 2013 will be published at the end of November. The report covers the period after the Liberal Democratic Party's return to power, meaning the scope of funding activities would be naturally larger than when the LDP was in the opposition, while it is also highly probable that the flow of money has been loosely accounted for. Media companies are already gearing up to pore over this new treasure trove of information.

Yet, if we are to play the political scandal game we should do so with a firm awareness of the stakes involved.

What is to be gained, or lost, by this game? While there are merits in the sense that we will cleanse the political arena towards attaining cleaner politics, we should also recognize the considerable demerits. More than anything, this is a game that shortens the lives of political administrations and political careers. In the Recruit incident, then Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru, who was expected to head a long-term administration, was forced to step down after only two years, and a slew of politicians who were competent yet somewhat lax in their money matters were purged in his wake.

Needless to say, politics takes time. To implement a policy pledge, a politician must align the interests of industry and bureaucracy, bring the party around and listen to what the opposition has to say in parliament. Looking back on the administrations of Yoshida Shigeru, Sato Eisaku, Nakasone Yasuhiro and Koizumi Jun'ichiro, it would be fair to say that it takes at least five years in power for a politician to accomplish anything substantial.

The same can be said of grooming politicians, who cultivate their political acumen and influence by riding out a number of elections and ministerial posts. There are cases where much time and taxpayer's money are spent on advancing a politician, only to see him/her branded a "failure" for being lax in certain areas. It is such a pity when political resources go to waste that way.

It all comes down to what we seek in a politician. In my opinion, a politician is someone who has the historical perspective that enables him or her to understand the present by conversing with the past and future, the acumen for seeking out the best course of action from a list of alternatives, and a balanced measure of decisiveness, organization and persuasion required for realizing that choice. However, these qualities and the ability to avoid being caught up in "money and politics" don't always go hand in hand. And particularly when a politician seeks to gain and retain the numbers necessary to realize a goal, money will inevitably follow. While we may speak of Tanaka Kakuei as evil in its purest form when it comes to "money and politics," we give him good marks for his lawmaker-initiated politics and the resumption of diplomatic relations with China.

If the opposition intends to let "money and politics" dominate this parliamentary session, I must disapprove. While they may win political points by doing so, they run a risk of neglecting important discussion on national policy.

This session should be devoted to discussing the pros and cons of two major policies that are being pursued by the Abe administration. In the area of foreign affairs and national security policy, the issues in question are the approval of collective defense and the direction of diplomatic relations with neighboring countries such as China and South Korea. And in the area of finance and economic policy, the issues are the next increase in the consumption tax rate and the future development of Abenomics, which revolves around quantitative and qualitative monetary easing. These political issues are of paramount importance for Japan, which is faced with major changes in its national security environment and economic structure. On its part, the Abe administration has presented its view before us. It is up to us to come up with ways to support it, or oppose it by providing an alternative plan.

That is how the opposition should approach parliamentary interpellation, and what political journalism should report to the public. We must take extra care not to mistake the supporting cast for the star of the show.

Atsuro Kurashige is Expert Senior Writer at Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

倉重 篤郎 / ジャーナリスト

2014年 12月 2日




何が得られて、何を失うか、である。クリーンな政治に向けて政界を浄化する、と言う意味ではそれなりのテイクはあるが、ロスも馬鹿にはならないことを知っておくべきだ。 このゲームは、何よりも政権、政治家の短命化につながる。リクルート事件でいえば、長期政権と目された竹下登政権が2年足らずで退陣、カネ集めの脇は甘いが能力の高かった政治家がどれだけパージされたか。






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > "Money and Politics" Shouldn't Take Center Stage