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Ambiguous agreement among Japan’s ruling parties leaves room for movement; LDP aims to sow division in the opposition bloc during talks

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, right, and Komeito Secretary General Keiichi Ishii, left, sign an agreement during the Diet on Thursday on the parties’ proposals on revisions to the Law on the Control of Political Funds .

The ink is barely dry on the ruling coalition parties’ agreement on proposed revisions to the Political Funds Control Act, but ambiguities and a lack of details are raising questions about how the deal will hold up in upcoming talks with opposition parties.

The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito signed the deal on Thursday. The LDP largely accepted Komeito’s demands, but its emphasis on leaving room for negotiations in talks with opposition parties led to disagreements over certain revisions.

Given that opposition parties are about to step up attacks over the LDP’s perceived lack of willingness to implement reforms, the upcoming discussions between the ruling and opposition parties are likely to be shaky.

LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi appeared relieved that the ruling parties had reached an agreement.

“There were disagreements about certain parts, but we have filled most of the gaps. This can be highly appreciated,” Motegi said Thursday during a press conference at party headquarters after talks with his Komeito counterpart, Keiichi Ishii.

Discussions on revisions to the political funds law will be a major focus in the second half of the current parliamentary session, following revelations that several LDP factions have routinely violated the law for years. The LDP will not be able to avoid a barrage of criticism during these discussions. Drafting this proposal with Komeito had been an urgent task for the LDP, as it wanted to strengthen the unity of the coalition partners before they faced the opposition parties.

Komeito had also pressured the LDP to boldly tackle the political funds issue, in an effort to alleviate widespread public distrust in politics.

“This agreement will be the first step towards restoring trust,” Ishii told reporters after his talks with Motegi.

From the start, the ruling parties had only set general policy directions on issues on which they did not fully agree and had put consensus-building on the back burner.

The two sides were unable to reach a compromise on how far to lower the threshold at which the names of fundraising party ticket buyers would be made public. No specific amount was mentioned in the agreement.

Another sticking point was the disclosure of the use of expense funds for political activities provided by parties to individual legislators. The LDP insisted that these expenditures should only be made public by category if they were received by lawmakers. There were concerns that political activities could be disrupted by revealing details that Diet members preferred not to make public, such as providing money to fellow lawmakers under the name of midsummer greetings.

Ultimately, the LDP accepted Komeito’s proposal that all party lawmakers who receive the money submit statements reporting how the money was spent. However, the LDP had reservations about releasing detailed information about the use, so the details of this matter have yet to be ironed out.

Voices of discontent

The LDP found itself in a dilemma regarding these political fund reforms. While the party feared that its public support would evaporate unless it showed willingness to implement reforms, there was also a deep-seated concern that making too many concessions during negotiations with Komeito could force the party to make additional compromises during the talks with the opposition parties. has yet to reach full speed.

“If we had agreed to details in line with the Komeito proposals, it would have become the starting point for negotiations with the opposition parties,” a former minister told The Yomiuri Shimbun. “The demands of the opposition parties would escalate further.”

Komeito also stuck to his tough approach. Some party members were even willing to secede from the LDP at this point, as giving up easy concessions to the LDP might give the impression that Komeito was half-hearted about these reforms.

“If the LDP is not willing to compromise, we must put forward our own demands during the negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties,” said a participant at a meeting of Komeito leaders.

Some LDP members were frustrated that the ruling parties’ proposal was “incomplete.” A mid-level LDP member complained, “The public will be fed up and wondering what we did.”

Ishin holds the key

Now that the ruling parties’ proposal has been signed, the scene shifts to discussions between the ruling parties and the opposition parties. Much will depend on the approach of opposition party Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party).

Senior LDP leaders met with Ishin Diet business chief Takashi Endo during parliament on Thursday in a bid to curry favor.

“We would like to have a serious discussion with you about revisions to the law,” an LDP participant told Endo.

The LDP apparently aims to involve Ishin in order to create a rift in the opposition bloc and move forward with reforms based on the ruling parties’ proposal.

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