Scandal Rocks No. 2 Opposition Party, Raises Issue of Religious Influence
TOKYO (AP) _ A political scandal is drawing sharp criticism of the links between Japan’s second-largest opposition party and the huge Buddhist organization that supports it.
Junya Yano, secretary-general of the Komeito, or Clean Government Party, told reporters on June 10 that the removal of outspoken parliamentarian Toshio Ohashi from the party roster was not an effort to put a lid on dissent.
″If there is criticism, we must face it head-on,″ Yano said.
According to Komeito leaders, Ohashi was given the boot on June 6 for womanizing and accepting bribes totaling $264,000.
But the forced departure of Ohashi, 62, a member of the powerful House of Representatives and a former kamikaze pilot, came shortly after he published an article saying the party’s independence had been usurped by Daisaku Ikeda, honorary president of Japan’s largest religious group, the Soka Gakkai.
″(Ikeda) may publicly claim the separation of religion and politics, but that is not the reality,″ Ohashi wrote in the June edition of Bungei Shunju, a prestigious monthly magazine. ″Nothing happens in the Gakkai or the party without his final OK.″
Ohashi quoted former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka’s description of Ikeda as a ″sutra-chanting Hitler,″ and said he was declaring war on Ikeda to restore the integrity of the middle-of-the-road Komeito.
The Komeito has 200,000 members nationwide and holds 80 seats in the two houses of Japan’s parliament. All but eight of Komeito’s parliament members are Soka Gakkai adherents.
The Soka Gakkai, founded on the ideals of a nationalistic brand of Buddhism expounded by the 13th-century priest Nichiren, has 12 million members in Japan and 1.2 million overseas, including more than 330,000 in the United States. Ikeda became its leader in 1960, four years before the Komeito was established.
In 1979 he retired as president following charges he was creating a personality cult, but he has remained its honorary president.
The Komeito is the second-strongest opposition force after the Japan Socialist Party, which has 110 parliament seats. When it was founded, the Komeito advocated ″Buddhist democracy,″ a platform later dropped as the Soka Gakkai officially withdrew from politics.
But the division between religion and politics has often proved to be a fine line.
″This is not a religious party,″ Takenori Kanzaki, head of the party’s International Division, said. ″Our party maintains clear independence from the Soka Gakkai on all matters of policy and personnel.″
The Komeito says Ohashi’s decision to oppose Ikeda was prompted by party retirement rules that would make this Ohashi’s last term in office.
Ohashi has denied this.
Disciplinary action against an outspoken supporter of Ohashi, Tokyo Municipal Assemblyman Yukimasa Fujiwara, is pending.
According to Kanzaki, the Komeito will not support Fujiwara in the next assembly elections.
″We decided last April to run another candidate,″ Kanzaki said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Ikeda has made no public response to Ohashi’s statement, but Kanzaki said Ohashi’s comments were ″untrue, and contain many perversions of the facts.″
A party member who requested anonymity said rumors about Ohashi’s misconduct had been ″making the rounds since late last year,″ and the Bungei Shunju article was simply the last straw.
At his press conference June 10, Yano said the Komeito had not become a ″personal possession of Ikeda,″ though it ″incorporates several religious ideas.″
″The Komeito is a public party, not a religious organ,″ he said. ″Though we do at times accept pleas from the Soka Gakkai to uphold public morals, that is only natural. It is the responsibility of our supporters to make such pleas.″