New Komeito will be holding a party convention July 24 that will surely be closely watched by politicians of all stripes, as well as by the public. If the party decides to join the LDP-LP coalition, it will give a major fillip to the government’s legislative capacity. Together, the three parties control a comfortable majority in both houses of the Diet, and major bills could sail through Parliament without a hiccup. This prospect causes both hopes and worries.

Already, New Komeito’s support has opened the way for the governing coalition to get two controversial bills on the statute book before Parliament breaks up for the summer. One is the wiretapping bill, which would make it legal for law-enforcement authorities to set up phone taps in the course of investigating organized and other pernicious crimes. The other is the so-called flag-and-anthem bill, aimed at giving legal status to the Hinomaru as the national flag and the “Kimigayo” as the national anthem.

As delegates to the New Komeito convention weigh the momentous decision whether to join up with their erstwhile rivals, they should know there is one positive payoff: Grasping the levers of government would give the party an opportunity to live up to its political philosophy, as engraved in its original name, “komei-to (clean-government party).”

Take two important legislative initiatives that had until recently been kept in deep freeze — the eradication of corruption in government and the eradication of corruption in politics. With the prospect of New Komeito joining the coalition fold, the Liberal Democratic Party has already made concessions to the opposition camp with regard to an ethics-in-government bill, in return for an agreement to put the flag-and-anthem bill on the legislative agenda during the current extended Diet session.

This is a welcome development, since ethics in government and ethics in politics are no longer in vogue these days. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi seldom talks about such matters, and neither do other top leaders in the LDP, or the Liberal Party for that matter. However, the LDP should remember that it was former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto who made an eloquent pledge in his policy address to the Diet on Feb. 16 last year to enact an ethics-in-government bill. After the Ministry of Finance was rocked by a series of wining-and-dining and other scandals, Mr. Hashimoto took the moral high ground and promised the nation to keep the bureaucracy honest and on a leash.

Mr. Hashimoto’s ruling alliance at the time — composed of the LDP, the Social Democratic Party and Sakigake — did hammer out an ethics bill, which was submitted to the Diet last year. The bill stipulated that “public servants, in the course of discharging their duties as provided by law, must not accept gifts, etc., from businesses and others who come under their jurisdiction.” The bureaucracy was also admonished not to engage “in any behavior that could give rise to public suspicion and distrust.” In response to this stirring initiative, the opposition camp banded together, fashioned an ethics bill of its own and sent it to Diet.

The fact that an ethics-in-government bill is, once again, in the pipeline is one more example of political horse-trading at work. True, the LDP is not against an ethics-in-government law as such; rather, the unspoken fear among some LDP politicians concerns what is subtly described as “balance.” Once the bureaucracy is reined in on matters of ethics, they feel, the call for ethics in politics will inevitably arise. It requires no particular political insight to understand the resistance within the LDP — the party that considers governing, and all the political perks flowing therefrom, almost a birthright.

It was against this background that action to get rid of corruption among politicians took place in an opposition-controlled Upper House, not the LDP-dominated Lower House. Together, the Democratic Party of Japan, New Komeito, the SDP and the Sangiin-no-kai group submitted a joint ethics-in-politics bill to the Upper House earlier in the current Diet session. This bill stipulates that lawmakers will be banned from reaping personal profits from their government “connections” and brokering them to private businesses for a fee.

If the forthcoming convention endorses the idea of New Komeito’s joining forces with the governing parties, the party leadership should get tough with the LDP in bargaining for a coalition Cabinet. It should also press for the adoption of both ethics bills in return for its support on other controversial legislative matters. Only then will the general public see something positive in the crumbling of the party’s resistance to the captivating charm of power.

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