The Democratic Party of Japan decided Tuesday to lift the suspension of former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa’s party membership. The move followed last month’s court decision that found Ozawa not guilty of falsely reporting political funds handled by his political funds management body, Rikuzan-kai.
In February 2011, after Ozawa had been indicted on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law, the then party leadership “suspended his party membership until a court ruling on his case becomes final.”
The party decided to lift the suspension effective from Thursday ― the deadline for court-designated lawyers acting as prosecutors to decide whether to appeal the not-guilty ruling. Moreover, the party agreed it would not change its decision even if the lawyers appeal the case.
DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi justified this decision by saying, “It’s our top priority to ensure full party unity,” a reference to such issues as the government’s plan for integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.
Indeed, party unity is of the essence now if the DPJ is to resolve a host of challenges, including deliberations on the bill for the planned consumption tax rate increase. There are no defects in the procedure to lift Ozawa’s suspension because the decision was approved at the DPJ’s executive and standing officers councils.
However, restoring Ozawa’s party membership should have hinged on Ozawa himself changing his stance. First and foremost, he should end his opposition to the bill on the consumption tax increase.
The consumption tax hike, which will generate additional fiscal resources for social security programs, was a major point of contention in the DPJ presidential election in late August last year. The party elected Yoshihiko Noda, an advocate of a tax increase, as president. Considerable time was later spent discussing the issue before the tax increase was decided by the party and the Cabinet.
With Ozawa’s comments and actions regarding the consumption tax hike bill in mind, Noda said, “I want all party members to toe the party line, no matter who they are.”
If Ozawa regains his party membership, it should be a given that he follows the party line. If he continues to oppose the bill, leaving the party must be his only option.
Ozawa has a responsibility to explain in the Diet about the “politics and money” connection that led to three of his former secretaries being handed guilty rulings in the Rikuzan-kai case. The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito confirmed Tuesday that they would call on Ozawa to testify in the Diet as a sworn witness.
In a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 87 percent of respondents said Ozawa “has not fulfilled his accountability to the people.” Making Ozawa appear before the Diet to explain his side of the story should have been a condition for reinstating his party membership.
In court hearings on the Rikuzan-kai case, Ozawa claimed he had never seen Rikuzan-kai’s political funds reports and had entrusted all funding matters to his secretaries. We think he belittled the tenet of the Political Funds Control Law.
Diet members, excluding those of the Japanese Communist Party, receive state subsidies provided to political parties. These subsidies are tax money collected from the people. Ozawa’s ducking of his responsibility to explain is inexcusable.
A much-needed revision of the law to toughen politicians’ responsibility to supervise accounting staffers and secretaries at their political organizations has been left in limbo. Both ruling and opposition parties have not taken action on the matter. Their slothfulness can only be described as a dereliction of duty.
(The Yomiuri Shimbun)
(Asia News Network)