The Diet is in turmoil over a fresh scandal. At a session of the Lower House Budget Committee last Thursday, an opposition party member alleged that Mr. Takafumi Horie, the disgraced former chief executive of the Internet company Livedoor, had sent an internal e-mail to subordinates before the Sept. 11 general election, ordering the transfer of 30 million yen to the bank account of a son of Liberal Democratic Party secretary general Tsutomu Takebe. Mr. Horie is under indictment for violation of the Securities and Exchange Law.
That allegation, made by Mr. Hisayasu Nagata of the Democratic Party of Japan, was endorsed by DPJ President Seiji Maehara, who said the charge was based on “highly accurate information.” Mr. Takebe, however, has strongly denied the accusation, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called it “totally groundless.” Now looming is a showdown between the LDP and DPJ, the nation’s two largest parties.
The current regular Diet session, which opened in January, has witnessed a series of scandals, all of which have dealt a blow to both the government and the ruling party. These scandals, not including the latest, are dubbed the “four-piece set,” implying that they are all somehow related. This quartet comprises the fabrication of earthquake-resistance design data for condominiums and hotels, the alleged violation by Livedoor of the Securities and Exchange Law, bid-rigging cases involving the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, and the discovery of prohibited parts in a U.S. beef shipment and the subsequent reimposition of a freeze on imports of U.S. beef.
Since the start of the half-year session, the DPJ has relentlessly attacked the government and the LDP for fostering the political conditions that it believes gave rise to the “four-piece set.” Mr. Nagata’s “bombshell statement” has reinforced the impression of a scandal-dominated legislature, making it even more likely that it will set the pace for parliamentary debate during the rest of the session. Might Parliament even bog down in a “war of expos es” with the ruling and opposition parties trying to undercut each other with allegations of wrongdoing?
Indeed, a succession of scandals has already altered the character of this session. Only a month ago, Mr. Koizumi said in his policy speech that the government would “introduce and secure passage” of a bureaucratic reform bill to cut the number of national civil servants by more than 5 percent in as many years, and integrate government-affiliated financial institutions. That statement now rings hollow. Clearly, the Koizumi administration is losing traction. There is a sense that it is becoming a “lame duck.”
The confusion over whether to submit a bill to amend the Imperial Household Law has also created the impression that the administration’s staying power has been weakened. Mr. Koizumi has repeatedly said the bill will be presented along the lines of a report from an advisory panel that approved of both men and women of imperial male lineage ascending to the throne. But in the face of strong objections from within the government and the LDP and, more recently, as a result of Princess Kiko’s pregnancy — which has raised the possibility of a male heir being born after all — the prime minister has reversed himself.
Mr. Koizumi seems unenthusiastic about sending a number of other important bills to the current session. He has indicated, for example, that he will not press for a bill to upgrade the Defense Agency to the ministry level. He does not seem very willing, either, to submit bills to revise the Education Basic Law and to establish legal procedures for constitutional amendments.
It is not just domestic issues that are creating a sense of policy stupor. Mr. Koizumi has never explained convincingly how he intends to repair relations with China and South Korea following their deterioration in recent years due to his repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine. It is also unclear how he will deal with the issue of U.S. military base relocations in Japan and what kind of exit strategy he has in mind for the Self-Defense Force units deployed in the Indian Ocean and in Iraq.
Mr. Koizumi is due to step down as LDP president (and hence as prime minister) in September when his presidential term expires. Since the legislative session will end June 18 unless it is extended, it is reasonable to think, barring an extended session, that his leadership ability will be quite limited after that. For all practical purposes, he has only four months left to lead.
It appears that the “scandal Diet” is driving Mr. Koizumi and his administration into a corner. At the same time, the scandals seem to be blurring his political responsibility in a larger sense. He should make clear what he intends to accomplish during his remaining time as prime minister, and what legacy of reform he would like to leave.
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