Katsuyuki Kawai, 57, and his wife, Anri, were arrested in Japan yesterday in the culmination of a corruption investigation. The power couple were both members of the Japanese Diet, with Katsuyuki a veteran politician and member of the Lower House and Anri successfully running for an Upper House seat… the equivalent, in the US, of a married Representative’s wife gaining a Senator position.
Her campaign took place in the July, 2019 election, and the arrests yesterday pertain to vote-buying efforts during that campaign. The Kawais are alleged to distributed more than 25.7 million yen, about $240,000, to 94 governmental officials and political activists in an effort to purchase votes.
Abe responded to the arrests today by issuing a statement at the beginning of a press conference. “I am well aware of the responsibility I bear for having once appointed (Katsuyuki) as justice minister. I offer my deepest apologies to the public.”
Prime Minister Abe has been directly associated with the scandal on multiple ends. First, Katsuyuki Kawai is a former Justice Minister in Abe’s administration. Second, Abe personally campaigned for Anri’s election. Third, Abe has recently been accused of trying to elevate a political ally into the job of prosecutor-general… an action which, if successful, would allow the ally, Hiromu Kurokawa, to kill some of the ongoing investigations into key members of government.
Abe’s efforts to put distance between himself and Donald Trump and his recent attempts to reconcile with South Korea – attempts which are being well-received by some in that nation following the resurgence in tensions between the North and the South – have given Abe some support due to his foreign policy efforts, which combined with his initial handling of the coronavirus and a comparatively steady economy during the covid-19 era had increased his popularity through the early months of the year.
The scandals have more than erased any poll bump he had, as he has been additionally hindered by a resurgence of the coronavirus in Japan due to what is perceived by many as “opening too early”. The economic hit due to the second wave of covid-19 cases and the loss of the Olympics have contributed to his woes.
The alleged vote-buying scheme is being framed by Abe’s political opposition as damaging to the public trust in the political process. In Japan’s community-focused culture, those attacks are likely to be effective. The widespread nature of the corruption it suggests, with nearly a hundred influential political figures already identified, risks causing a sea change during the next Japanese election cycle.