Politicians giving voters gifts is never OK and in Japan, that doesn’t just mean money. Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara, 57, resigned from his post on Friday, Oct. 25 following accusations that he gifted voters with fruits, among other items.
Just about two months after he was appointed, reports surfaced that Sugawara gave his constituents in Tokyo melons, oranges, crabs, and royal jelly, which are considered expensive. Critics deemed that this violates the country’s election policies, BBC News reported.
Japan's election law bans politicians from sending gifts or donations to voters in their home constituency.
Weekly Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun reported on Oct. 17, that the minister also allegedly offered a monetary gift of 20,000 Japanese yen ($185) during a wake, a local custom known as “incense money” or “condolence money” given to assist grieving families with their expenses. He was also criticised for sending funeral flowers to multiple families this year.
The report was accompanied by a photo showing Sugawara bowing and handing an envelope containing the money at a wake, a printed list of gifts his office allegedly sent, and a list of thank you letters he received from voters.
Sugawara told reporters on Friday that he was still confirming whether or not he actually broke the election law, but decided to step down amid pressure from the opposition.
"I don't want my problems to slow down parliament deliberations," he said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even offered his apologies to citizens, saying: "I bear responsibility in having appointed him. I deeply apologise to the Japanese people."
If found guilty, Sugawara would be in violation of the Public Offices Election Act and could face a 500,000 yen ($4,605) fine, according to the Japan Times. His resignation comes at a crucial time, as Japan continues to have problematic trade relations with South Korea.
Tokyo tightened export control on materials needed by South Korean workers, before dropping them from a list of countries eligible for fast-track exports. This came after the South Korean government ordered some Japanese firms to compensate South Korean workers who were forced to work in their wartime mines and factories.
Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon met on Thursday and agreed on the importance of cooperation, seeking to rebuild relations amid the feud over history and trade.
Sugawara was replaced by former revitalisation minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, also on Friday.
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