Wrist Slap or Back Pat?


Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and ruling party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa probably heaved a collective sigh of relief when one of their party members embroiled in an election funding scandal announced yesterday she would not resign after all, despite widespread expectations to the contrary (Kyodo News reported last week Chiyomi Kobayashi had conveyed her intention to resign, though here there’s always a debate over whether announcing an intention to resign IS resigning).

While expressing ‘keenly felt moral responsibility,’ Democratic Party of Japan member Kobayashi said she had no intention of resigning following the indictment of one of her aides over an alleged donation of 16 million yen to her campaign fund from the acting head of the Hokkaido Teachers Union.

According to local media, Hatoyama suggested to reporters this morning that the executive of the DPJ needed to quickly discuss the possibility of taking disciplinary measures against the party member.

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But behind the projected impression of the need to deal with Kobayashi over the scandal, I suspect Hatoyama and Ozawa are actually quite relieved. After all, if Kobayashi had gone ahead and done the honourable thing, would that not have heightened the pressure on the two DPJ leaders to atone for money scandals linked to them?

As it is, all three can instead stick to the classic defence of ‘I didn’t know,’ and continue to cling to their positions.

You can imagine what budding political fund managers in Japan must believe to be part of the job description: A proven ability to maximize funding while keeping your boss conveniently in the dark; salary commensurate with applicant’s willingness to take the fall.

Hatoyama’s funding body overlooked gift tax payments on more than 1 billion yen donated by his mum, while Ozawa’s funding organization has been involved in a dubious 400 million yen property purchase. So the question is, if either Hatoyama or Ozawa actually chooses to rebuke Kobayashi, will he be able to do it with a straight face?

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