Watchdog plans Web site blacklist to foil political misfits’ re-elections

by Kenzo Moriguchi

OSAKA — After 10 years keeping an eye on government waste in Osaka, Yoneko Matsuura came to think it was the people’s representatives who should be keeping the state in check.

So she has turned her attention to Diet lawmakers, who are expected to face a general election in June. And the citizens’ group to which Matsuura belongs, Mihariban (Watchdog), aims to kick the bums out of office.

Taking a cue from the South Korean general election earlier this month, in which citizens blacklisted candidates with marred records, 26 members of Mihariban and other Kansai region citizens’ groups launched an effort to stop unfit candidates from winning Lower House seats.

They are now working on making a list of such candidates and plan to release it on a Web site by the end of May.

“I thought the campaign in South Korea to blacklist incompetent candidates and prevent them from winning a Parliament seat was a very interesting way to examine members of the legislature. I wondered how such a method might apply to Japan,” Matsuura said.

In the South Korean election, an alliance of some 500 citizens’ groups issued lists of 86 candidates it described as incompetent, corrupt or lazy, 59 of whom were defeated.

Matsuura talked with some key members of the citizen effort in South Korea at the beginning of April and decided to launch a similar campaign in Japan, because, she said, “Many people think quite a few Diet members in this country have defects as politicians.

“Things in Japan are different from South Korea. The corruption of South Korean politicians was very serious, and the campaign there seemed very aggressive,” she said. “What I think we will suggest is a kind of reference so voters can take it into account when they decide whom to vote for,” she said.

According to the Home Affairs Ministry, blacklisting candidates before the official campaign starts does not violate the Public Election Law, because the law, when it was enacted, did not foresee such an activity. However, updating a blacklist on a Web site during the official campaign could be illegal, a ministry official said.

Matsuura’s group is asking the public for information on Diet members who might be considered as unfit under eight criteria: (1) those who have been involved in crimes, injustice and corruption; (2) those who have violated the Public Election Law; (3) those who have violated the Political Funds Control Law; (4) those who have spoken against citizens or human rights; (5) those who have broken their election pledges; (6) those who have neglected Diet activities; (7) those who are physically unable to perform their duties; and (8) those who have abused their authority or lack common sense.

“We want information on various Diet members, not just high-ranking legislators. There must be information that only locals know,” she said. “We shouldn’t just grumble about politicians, but speak up. Diet members should know what we think of them.”

Matsuura is not sure how effective the blacklist will be, but she thinks it will at least put some pressure on Diet members, as they will become more aware that voters are watching them.

Indeed, some politicians seem very sensitive about how they are seen before the election. Hiromu Nonaka, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, earlier this month criticized an article in the weekly magazine Shukan Hoseki for listing 50 Diet members who intellectuals would most like to see defeated.

Nonaka was ranked second after former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, who has since indicated he will retire from politics. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was ranked sixth on the list.

In Tokyo, another citizens’ group is conducting a similar campaign. Matsuura said her group will cooperate with the Tokyo group by exchanging information.

“We don’t intend to announce any organized opinion. We hope people can express their individual opinions,” she said.

The list will be released at http://www3.ocn.ne.jp/~mihari