Thursday, 23 October 2014

Japanese politics: Sukyandaru

Nguồn tin:

Yuko Obuchi’s sun sinks

TO LOSE one minister may be counted a misfortune. To lose two on the same day makes the prime minister look careless. On October 20th Japan’s recently appointed trade and industry minister, Yuko Obuchi, and justice minister, Midori Matsushima, resigned from the cabinet following small infringements of political-funding rules. It is a blow to Shinzo Abe’s efforts to boost the standing of women in Japan. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is making hay, and other government ministers have had to deny wrongdoing. It adds up to the first biggish wobble for Mr Abe’s government since he returned to office in December 2012.

Perhaps the administration’s absence of money scandals until now is the surprising thing. Financial wrongdoing used to be a regular fixture of Japan’s political scene. It was only a couple of decades ago when politicians might be caught hiding gold bars and bundles of cash from bribes at home. More recently, in December 2009, when Yukio Hatoyama was the DPJ’s first prime minister, he was found to have included dead and false contributors on his list of campaign donors. Most of his money had actually come from his mum, heir to an industrial fortune.

The infractions committed by Ms Obuchi and by Ms Matsushima are trivial. The latter’s misstep was to hand out to her supporters thousands of paper fans with her image printed on them; they were worth roughly ¥80 (75 cents) each. That broke the law on giving valuable items to followers. Now, as political mementoes, they change hands online at around ¥10,000 apiece.

Ms Obuchi’s office helped pay for supporters from her constituency to make theatre trips to Tokyo. Japan’s rules on the permitted use of campaign money are at once strict and vague, but Ms Obuchi, who has often been mentioned as a future prime minister, was careless. She took over her parliamentary seat, at the age of 26, from her father, Keizo Obuchi, who suffered a stroke in 2000 while he was prime minister and died some weeks later. Political types say that so-called “hereditary” members in safe Diet seats—and there are many—often fail to ensure that their constituency headquarters are run properly.

The DPJ wants to uncover more scandals. Mr Abe’s new defence minister, Akinori Eto, had to amend his political-funds report because it recorded potentially improper donations. The farm minister, Koya Nishikawa, has been questioned over donations from a fraudulent agricultural firm. And the labour minister, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, has come under scrutiny for allegedly using his influence to secure permission for a nursing home in his constituency. All three reject the allegations. An Abe adviser warns that, in turn, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) may start digging into the finances of opposition figures.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s cherished project of boosting the role of women in the economy is in trouble. In naming five women to his cabinet last month, Mr Abe made a splash: only one previous cabinet had as many. Yet he picked unwisely. Now, says Yukiko Tokai, a lobbyist, Japanese companies can more easily resist bringing women into the boardroom. Only 2% of directors are women.

As for the three women left in the cabinet, at least two are vulnerable to attack because of their connections to Japan’s far right. Last month the office of Sanae Takaichi, the minister for internal affairs, struggled to explain why she appeared in photographs alongside a neo-Nazi. Soon afterwards another photograph emerged, of Eriko Yamatani, the minister for public safety and the overseer of the country’s police, posing with members of Zaitokukai, an ultra-right-wing group which leads rallies against ethnic-Korean residents.

To replace the fallen ministers, Mr Abe has appointed two experienced politicians. The new trade and industry minister is Yoichi Miyazawa. On his third day in office he faced questions over political funds spent by his local support group in a fetish-themed bar in Hiroshima; he did not go himself, he said. The new justice minister is a woman, Yoko Kamikawa, who was previously minister for gender equality. The government will now try to move on to weightier subjects, such as a coming decision on whether to raise further a tax on consumption aimed at shoring up the public finances. If attention and energies are consumed by further scandal, such tasks will only grow harder.

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