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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

EDITORIAL

Mr. Maehara steps down

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara Sunday resigned for receiving a ¥250,000 political donation from a foreign national in violation of the Political Funds Control Law. He is a leader of a group of Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers who support Prime Minister Naoto Kan. His resignation is likely not only to deal a serious blow to the Kan administration but also to negatively impact Japan's diplomacy.

The law, intended to prevent foreign interests from unduly influencing Japanese politics, prohibits politicians from receiving donations from foreign nationals, foreign corporate bodies and other foreign organizations. Mr. Maehara resigned only two days after his problem surfaced. He may have wanted to minimize confusion in Diet deliberations on the fiscal 2011 budget and budget-related bills. But even so, opposition parties will assail Mr. Kan for appointing him as foreign minister.

The problem does not end here. It has also surfaced that a company linked with a person indicted on a tax evasion charge bought ¥500,000 tickets for a fund-raising party for Mr. Maehara and ¥800,000 tickets for Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, and donated some ¥1.2 million to government revitalization minister Renho. These three politicians have been critical of former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa, who was indicted in connection with false reporting on his political funds. There is a strong possibility that Mr. Maehara's resignation will lead pro-Ozawa DPJ lawmakers to strengthen their attack on Mr. Kan and the current DPJ leadership, which suspended Mr. Ozawa's party membership. Such a move will further weaken the Kan administration's foundations.

Mr. Maehara should have screened donations more carefully, but there are mitigating circumstances. The foreign donor, a South Korean resident of Japan, used her Japanese name. It is unclear whether Mr. Maehara knew that she was a Korean national. Nonetheless, by resigning quickly and avoiding becoming a political target, Mr. Maehara may have preserved his future political prospects.



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