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2011年1月24日 (月)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 22
EDITORIAL: Ozawa and the Diet

It now seems former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa will, after all, not appear before the Lower House Deliberative Council on Political Ethics to explain his questionable political fund reports. This is very regrettable.

Referring to the issue of when he would appear before the council, Ozawa has told the chairman of the panel that he thought his best option was to attend a council meeting "after the enactment of the budget." By dictating the timing of his appearance, Ozawa effectively refused the request.

In response to Ozawa's action, DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada announced his intention to abandon his plan to have the council vote on asking Ozawa to attend a council meeting.

Ozawa is soon to be indicted over the falsified political funds reports according to an October decision by a prosecution inquest committee.

His right to try to clear his name through the courts as a defendant in a criminal case should be protected. So from this point of view, the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" is naturally applied to Ozawa.

But we must point out that Ozawa as a politician is acting in a way that is inconsistent with what he has said.

After the prosecution inquest panel decided, for a second time, that Ozawa should be prosecuted, setting the stage for his forced indictment, the DPJ heavyweight said he would comply with any Diet decision concerning his appearance before the ethics council at any time.

Recently, however, Ozawa has been arguing there is no good reason why he should appear before the panel since the judicial process concerning the case is already under way. But he has also indicated his intention to attend a council meeting sometime during the regular Diet session, according to comprehensive judgment as a politician.

Already a year has passed since the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office searched Ozawa's office and other locations in connection with the scandal. He has not taken any of the many opportunities to explain himself that came up during the period. And he is still setting conditions for every step.

It is hard not to believe that he is trying to escape the ordeal of being grilled over the scandal in public by playing for more time.

As he has himself stressed, Ozawa played the central role in the creation of the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics in 1985.

Faced with the challenge of how to restore the public's trust in politics, which was shattered by the Lockheed payoff scandal in the mid-1970s, Ozawa, who then headed the Lower House Rules and Administration Committee, took the initiative in developing the code of political ethics and creating the council as a body to enforce the rules.

The code says that Diet members, when they are suspected of having acted in a way that betrays political ethics, must make sincere efforts to clarify the facts and their responsibility.

Has Ozawa forgotten this rule? If he maintains his recalcitrant attitude toward the issue and refuses to fulfill his responsibility as a lawmaker to give the public a satisfactory accounting of the flawed reports, his very commitment to the political reform he has advocated for so long will be in serious doubt.

Ozawa's latest move is expected to prompt the DPJ leadership to consider steps such as summoning him to the Diet as a sworn witness or urging him to leave the party.

That will be a natural response to his refusal to appear before the ethics council.

If the ruling party overlooks Ozawa's irresponsible behavior and fails to take action against him, the regular Diet session convening on Monday will again get mired in a futile partisan battle over the issue of money in politics.

There is a long list of important policy challenges that need to be addressed immediately, including the budget for new fiscal year, integrated tax and social security reform, free trade and the regeneration of Japanese agriculture.

Is it acceptable to allow the Ozawa issue to ruin the opportunity for mature and constructive debate on these crucial challenges?

Both Ozawa and the DPJ leadership should ask themselves this question.


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