15 members of Japanese municipal assembly embroiled in votes scandal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 11:22pm

Three-quarters of the members of a local government in northern Japan have now been arrested in a widening investigation into the buying of votes in January's election for mayor.

With 15 of the 20 members of the Hirakawa municipal assembly now either under arrest, already prosecuted or forced to resign, the town's administration has ground to a halt until new elections can be held.

The growing scandal carries on what some see as a long tradition of corruption in Japanese politics but, in a stroke of irony, the candidate who was due to benefit from the electoral fraud only managed to come second in the two-horse race.

Police from Aomori Prefecture on Wednesday arrested six members of the assembly on suspicion of accepting cash payments in return for votes.

Nine other members of the assembly have previously been taken into custody on charges of contravening electoral laws.

One of those arrested previously was the then-mayor, Kiyoji Okawa, who was attempting to keep his seat in the face of a spirited campaign by Tadayuki Nagao, a former speaker of the Aomori Prefectural Assembly.

Police said the latest six arrests are in connection with the accepting of hundreds of thousands of yen in August 2013 from Tadashi Mizuki.

Mizuki, a key supporter of Okawa, allegedly handed over the money to drum up more votes for the mayor. Cash incentives were apparently not enough to get the 33,328 residents of the city to return Okawa, however, and he lost by around 2,000 votes.

Both Mizuki, 66, and Okawa, 69, are presently on trial over the alleged electoral irregularities. Five people already convicted are no longer on the assembly.

Aomori Prefecture has something of a reputation of a hotbed of political corruption.

But Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University, said that Japan is no better or worse for political corruption than many other parts of the world.

"Local politicians on the take is the norm everywhere," he said. "The difference is that this time they have got caught."