Besides focusing on economic issues, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori pledged to use the special Diet session that was convened September 21 to attack the problem of political graft. In his speech at the reopening of the legislature, the prime minister promised to introduce a bill that would make it explicitly illegal for a Diet member to accept money or favors in exchange for his or her vote. The governing coalition &emdash; composed of the Liberal Democratic Party, the New Komeito and the New Conservative Party &emdash; submitted just such a bill later that day. The draft legislation would impose a prison sentence of up to three years on Diet members as well as on local assembly members and heads of subnational governments who accept bribes while in office. The proposal is a response to the July indictment of former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao for allegedly accepting ¥30 million ($272,700 at ¥110=$1.00) from a contractor for favorable treatment (see JEI Report No. 30B, August 4, 2000).
The subject promises to become a battleground since the opposition parties, which had tried to make political corruption their own issue, have united to offer a competing proposal. The Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party, the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party of Japan would make it a crime for politicians to solicit gifts or to promise favors &emdash; regardless of whether such special treatment was sought or simply offered. In addition, the opposition would make it illegal for any third party to accept gifts or bribes if that would be tantamount to a politician so doing. The minority camp also would expand the legislation's reach to state-paid secretaries, who serve as right-hand men to elected officials.
The maneuvering is considered important to the electoral prospects of both sides. Elections for the upper house of the Diet must be held by next summer. The cabinet's public approval ratings have been climbing out of the cellar recently, and Mr. Mori wants to maintain this momentum. However, LDP influentials and the party's coalition partners remain wary of the blunt-spoken prime minister's ability to lead a successful campaign. Mr. Mori's handling of the furor over the Nakao affair as well as of the economy's near-term course and ties with an anti-whaling-minded Washington (see JEI Report No. 36B, September 22, 2000) likely will be important considerations in determining his longevity in office.