Asia Japan justice minister resigns in election payments scandal

Japan justice minister resigns in election payments scandal

Japanese Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai bites his lips, surrounded by reporters, after submitting his resignation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

Japan’s justice minister resigned Thursday over election payment allegations involving his wife, also a lawmaker, and about his own reported gift-giving allegations, becoming the second Cabinet minister to step down in a week.

Katsuyuki Kawai’s resignation after the trade minister resigned last Friday are an embarrassment to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which has been also plagued with a series of gaffes that have incited public anger.

Abe told reporters he accepted the resignation submitted by Kawai, who said he did not want to cause trouble to the government’s justice policy because of his scandal.

Abe appointed Masako Mori, a lawyer-turned-lawmaker who previously served a minister in charge of addressing Japan’s declining birth rate, as new justice minister.

“I decided to respect his decision … I was the one who appointed Mr. Kawai and I deeply feel my responsibility for causing this result,” Abe said. “I offer my deep apologies to the people.”

Kawai denied he or his wife did anything wrong.

“I believe both my wife and I carried out election campaign by abiding by law,” Kawai said. “I will thoroughly investigate the case and fulfill my accountability.”

Isshu Sugawara resigned as trade minister over allegations that he and his aides offered money and gifts to his supporters in violation of election law. He also denied wrongdoing while saying he resigned to not cause trouble.

Such payments and gifts are considered donations that are against Japanese elections law. The two ministers have not faced criminal investigation by police or prosecutors.

But Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of main opposition party, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said “Kawai’s resignation immediately after he was strongly suspected in the magazine article is tantamount to admitting his wrongdoings.” With two ministers suspected in election scandals, Abe’s entire Cabinet deserves resignation, Fukuyama said.

Both ministers were appointed when the Cabinet was reshuffled in September after Abe’s ruling coalition won a comfortable majority in the July elections in the upper house, the less powerful of Japan’s two chambers.

Abe’s Cabinet has been plagued with gaffes recently. Defense Minister Taro Kono called himself “a rain-bringing man” since Japan was hit by three typhoons within weeks of him assuming the post, triggering criticism his comment was insensitive to the people who suffered losses from those storms.

Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda was criticized for saying students should compete for university exams within their means while referring to a planned introduction of private English tests starting in 2021. The suggestion that rich students could take practice tests was interpreted as an acceptance of social disparity.

Abe took office in December 2012 and is set to be the longest serving prime minister in Japanese postwar history next month. He has managed to shake off various scandals, partly because of an opposition that is divided and unpopular.

The Weekly Bunshun tabloid magazine reported that Kawai’s wife, Anri, is alleged to have paid her staff allowances exceeding legal limits, in what the magazine called “election staff bribery.”

Kawai himself sent gifts such as potatoes, corn and other gifts to his supporters, the article said, alleging him of vote buying.

The article said Anri Kawai paid female campaign “announcement” staff twice as much as the legal limit of 15,000 yen ($138) per day for the July elections in her home district in Hiroshima, where she won a seat.