Embattled Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe is likely to be forced to step down after the ruling coalition in the metropolitan assembly threatened to submit a no-confidence motion against him on Wednesday.
The assembly’s ruling camp, comprising the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, agreed Tuesday that Masuzoe should resign over the use of some ¥4.4 million in taxpayer funds for private purposes.
If a no-confidence motion is passed, Masuzoe will be forced to choose from two options: step down or dissolve the assembly for a snap election within 10 days.
If he dissolves the assembly, anti-Masuzoe members would likely win more than half of the seats in the assembly in the snap election and pass another no-confidence motion against him. Recent polls show that 70 to 80 percent of Tokyo voters want him to resign immediately.
Masuzoe would be required by law to resign if the second no-confidence motion is passed.
The move toward a no-confidence motion came after representatives from the LDP informed other parliamentary groups about their intention at a meeting earlier Tuesday, according to two people who attended the meeting.
Later in the day, major parties, including the LDP and Komeito, continued talks to consolidate the wording of the motion after preparing separate drafts for Wednesday’s assembly session.
The Japanese Communist Party, backed by the Democratic Party, had already decided to submit a no-confidence motion against the governor.
The LDP and Komeito had been reluctant to submit a motion against Masuzoe amid concerns they have few potential candidates to put forward for governor.
The two parties backed Masuzoe in the 2014 gubernatorial race. But facing mounting public anger over the expenses scandal, and concerned about voter backlash in the July 10 Upper House election, they decided to urge Masuzoe to resign.
“In Tokyo, a gubernatorial candidate should be well-known among the public. Otherwise they won’t get elected,” a high-ranking government official said.
Speculation is rife that the ruling parties may ask Shun Sakurai, a former administrative vice minister of the international affairs ministry, to run if Masuzoe resigns.
Sakurai is well-known among Tokyo residents, partly because he is the father of Sho Sakurai, a member of the popular idol group Arashi.
Masuzoe’s rampant misuse of political funds has enraged Tokyo voters following revelations he spent around ¥4.4 million between 2009 and 2014 for his personal use.
The expenses included family trips, wining and dining, and the purchase of comic books, mystery novels, artworks and even Chinese silk shirts.
Masuzoe has staunchly refused to step down after his lawyers maintained that the expenses were “improper” but not illegal.
The Political Funds Control Law essentially has no criteria regarding the activities on which political funds can legitimately be spent. Lawmakers say the law was written that way to guarantee freedom of political activities.
Earlier in the day, Tokyo-based LDP executives met at a hotel and reportedly came to an agreement that Masuzoe’s resignation is “inevitable.”
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi confirmed that his party would consider submitting a no-confidence motion.
“It’s clear the Komeito caucus in the metropolitan assembly will demand the resignation of the governor,” Yamaguchi said.
Masuzoe was elected governor in February 2014 to fill the post that Naoki Inose had vacated over a donation scandal involving the Tokushukai hospital group.
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