--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 29
EDITORIAL: Noda must get Ozawa to speak to Diet about role in scandal.
In its manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, which led to historic regime change, the Democratic Party of Japan pledged to ban political donations by companies and other organizations.
But the ruling party has yet to follow through on this promise.
Because of this, the party's weak-kneed response to the recent court ruling for the aides of former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa over a scandal involving his political funds management organization is all the more intolerable.
The DPJ's attitude has served only to heighten public disillusionment with the party.
Now that all three former Ozawa aides indicted over the political funds scandal have been convicted, the opposition parties have good reason to demand that Ozawa be summoned to testify before the Diet to answer the allegations against him.
But Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has refused to take action. He has repeatedly said it must be left up to individual politicians to decide how best to respond if they are embroiled in scandal.
Noda also said the issue of Ozawa's Diet testimony should be debated on the Diet floor.
He has declined to make any comment on the ruling.
Noda's remarks are familiar refrains, often used by the Liberal Democratic Party when it was in power to avoid getting entangled when problematic situations arose.
Noda, explaining his reason for not taking action, cited the fact that Ozawa's own trial will soon start.
That suggests he confuses the issue of criminal liability, which should be determined in court, with the political responsibility a Diet member is expected to bear.
All these excuses are simply unacceptable, given that two and a half years have passed since the first Ozawa aide was arrested. In all this time, the party has failed to make Ozawa give his side of the story.
It said Ozawa's office wielded a decisive influence in picking a winning contractor, through bid-rigging, for public works projects.
The Ozawa camp also collected political donations from contractors hoping to win public works contracts, according to the ruling.
The ruling pointed out various aspects of the case that raise serious legal and moral questions about Ozawa's role in the scandal.
These facts have serious implications since they indicate that Ozawa's political funding activities undermined the fairness of politics and the government.
It is questionable that Ozawa's aides could have done these things without the say-so of their boss and his huge political power.
Noda should demand in no uncertain terms that Ozawa answer questions about the scandal before the Diet.
Otherwise, Noda will inevitably face the sarcastic charge that he has been trying to build unity within the party only to sweep these problems under the carpet.
Following the court ruling, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki said, "I can't remember a single politician who didn't take responsibility after his three aides had been found guilty."
His criticism of Ozawa's attitude has found resonance among Japanese voters.
The opposition camp is certain to ratchet up its attack on the government and the DPJ, and the prospects for proposed bipartisan policy talks could become bleaker.
If this leads to fresh legislative gridlock that blocks the Noda administration from pursuing its policy agenda, the party unity he has been seeking to secure will be meaningless.
It is distressing to see the Diet debating this issue when it should be devoting all its energy to dealing with the consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March and the nuclear disaster it triggered.
To put it bluntly, the DPJ is slacking off.
Yet, we urge the opposition parties to act in a cool-headed and reasonable manner.
They should be allowed to question the government about the Ozawa scandal.
But they should not allow the political process to go astray again by focusing on the issue of the role of money in politics.
We hope the opposition parties will not cause any serious delay in Diet debate.
This is with regard to the proposed third supplementary budget to finance measures for reconstruction but also other key policy challenges like revitalization of the economy and integrated tax and social security reform.
As they try to hold Ozawa accountable for the scandal, they should also pursue meaningful Diet debate on efforts to solve the mountain of challenges facing the nation instead of shooting for early dissolution of the Lower House for a snap election.