Thursday, October 16, 2008

Yukichi Maeda’s Ordeal—A Little Background, Present and Past

In case anyone is relying on this blog for the latest on the maruchi shoho scandal, the DPJ dealt with it swiftly by convincing Yukichi Maeda to leave the DPJ and not stand for reelection in the upcoming lower House election. The other Diet members with industry ties were left untouched because they had not used question time to push the multilevel marketing industry’s interests. This has been a particularly sensitive issue for Ichiro Ozawa because the recently-dissolved pro-maruchi shoho caucus group “Diet Member League to Nurture a Wholesome Network Industry(健全なネットワークビジネスを育てる議員連盟)” has a heavily Ozawa cast to it. According to Wikipedia*, it was founded by Hajime Ishii, an associate of Mr. Ozawa since he first split from the LDP. Hirohisa Fujii, chairman of the caucus, and Kenji Yamaoka, advisor, are his closest associates who have stuck with him for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. Mr. Maeda, executive director, and Kenko Matsuki, member, are Ozwa protégés. In fact, the other member, Shinpei Matsushita, former DPJ ally who has since distanced himself because of political differences, is the only one without apparent Ozawa ties. I missed the extent of Mr. Ozawa’s guilt-by-association aspect of the issue when I first looked into it.

How did the DPJ and more specifically Mr. Maeda get into this mess?

First of all, the DPJ is out-funded by the LDP. Although big business does give some money to the DPJ, it remains firmly behind the LDP as far as Keidanren members are concerned, who favored the LDP over the DPJ with political funds by a factor of nearly forty to one in the most recent FY2007. Money from public coffers under the Political Party Subsidies Act (政党助成法) has gone a long way to bridge the gap. Still, with the relative lack of ties to big business and other moneyed, traditional interest groups, the DPJ and its individual members have a greater challenge in meeting its day-to-day and campaign financing needs than their LDP counterparts. Second, unlike the Communists and the New Komeito, the DPJ does not have the ideologically-committed support base that serves as the low-cost political machinery for their candidates come election time. In short, the DPJ is a poor man’s LDP, but with similar outlay requirements. The DPJ and its members had more reason to look towards non-traditional and, in the case of the amaruchi shoho industry, less savory sources.

A third point—and this is where Mr. Maeda’s politically fatal enthusiasm for the maruchi shoho industry came in—is that the DPJ is the opposition. It is no secret that the LDP has always enjoyed greater access to the administrative authorities than the opposition parties that goes beyond the control exercised directly by Cabinet Ministers and other political appointees. Thus it is no wonder that improper influence—proven and alleged—exercised by LDP members have been at the center of many a political scandal over the years**. This has been less of a problem for the opposition because there are fewer of them and as a consequence—they are the opposition—have less influence to peddle. This means that much, if not most, of the influence that the opposition must come from their formal rights as parliamentarians; of those prerogatives, question time in the Diet is the most visible and usually most effective. In fact, a rare bribery conviction of an opposition Diet member—Fumio Yokote, (indicted 1986, final appeal rejected by Supreme Court 1999), then up-and-coming star of the now-defunct Democratic Socialist Party—turned on Mr. Yokote’s use of question time (admitted) to favor political contributors (denied). Of course the circumstances of the transfer of funds in Mr. Yokote’s case (as determined by the courts) and in Mr. Maeda’s (as reported) are quite different. From what I’ve read, Mr. Maeda appears to have an outside chance of being charged with political contribution infractions but not the more serious one of bribery. Still, his use of question time echoes Mr. Yokote’s ordeal and, more generally, highlights the access problems and their consequences for the (so far) eternal opposition.

* The defunct caucus group’s web page has been shut down, and there are no independent sources other than Wikipedia regarding its membership.

** Most recently, the politically powerful MAFF Minister Katsutoshi Matsuoka took his life in May 2007 after a series of allegations of improper influence including accusations of bribery surfaced.

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