Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mr. Tsunoda's Political Financing Woes Reveal Deep Fissure in the Democratic Party of Japan

Giichi Tsunoda, DPJ veteran and Upper House Deputy Chairman (the post by convention goes to a member of the party with the second largest number of seats), has been embroiled in a political financing controversy. His election campaign headquarters is accused of failing to report 22.5 million yen in donations. Moreover, some of the money, albeit a small amount, is purported to have come from one or more North Korean entities, an accusation first revealed in the Yomiuri. (Asahi initially referred to "foreign parties".) So far, Mr. Tsunoda is refusing to resign, denying any knowledge of such funds and claiming his campaign HQ has no record of any such contributions. Mr. Tsunoda, though, looks increasingly embattled, because Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ Secretary-General, in a DPJ internal meeting, has reportedly come out in favor of resignation. The DPJ would definitely like to get this out of the way as quickly as possible before the Diet begins in earnest, and I assume it will get its way. But the manner, in which the controversy surfaced, as well as the alleged involvement of North Korea, reveals a deep fissure within the DPJ that has hobbled its efforts to carve out a distinct identity in the minds of the electorate.

Mr. Tsunoda was one of the moderates in the Socialist Party (now the Social Democratic Party) who broke away to directly join the DPJ in 1997. Thus, there were serious ideological and personal differences, both local and national, between the erstwhile Socialists and the rest of the party, who for the most part came from conservative, largely LDP, backgrounds. Apparently, the gap was poorly bridged in Gunma Prefecture, Mr. Tsunoda's electoral district, because disgruntled local party members allegedly passed on to the Yomiuri some campaign finance documents that included entries of donations that were not accounted for in the official submissions to MICA. This is different from the exposure of the other political financial disclosure issue, which, whatever the origins of the investigation, involves publicly available records and good-old fashioned questioning from reporters. But, lumped together with Mr. Ozawa's case, it will make it very difficult for the DPJ to press the LDP on the main event.

Mr. Tsunoda does not have allies among DPJ leaders either. Mr. Hatoyama, who is reportedly seeking Mr. Tsunoda's resignation, like Ichiro Ozawa, hails from the LDP. Naoto Kan, the other member of the LDP triumvirate, got his start in the Diet through Shakaiminshu Rengo, a breakaway group of moderates from the Socialist Party, and came to DPJ by way of Shinto Sakigake, whose origins are traceable to the LDP.

Allegation of a North Korea connection is particularly painful to Mr. Tsunoda. The Socialist Party was not only decidedly unsympathetic, even denying, to the families of the abductees when they turned to it for help; many people believe that it caused the death of an abductee when it turned over to North Korea a copy of a letter that the abductee had smuggled out. Given where the prime minister stands on this issue and the public animosity that has built up against North Korea, the LDP can exploit this angle to its advantage in the Diet sessions if need be.

It's hard to see how Mr. Tsunoda can stay on indefinitely, if intra-party push comes to shove. But history has given Mr. Tsunoda an independent power base, and possibly some resentment toward the direction the party is tacking under its relatively conservative leaders. I have no idea how many more days or hours the DPJ can take this before they are forced to take a wrenching, institutionally damaging step to cut Mr. Tsunoda and, possibly, his supporters, off.

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