A ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker applied to quit the party after she came under fire for allegedly unleashing a physical and verbal attack on one of her secretaries.
The suspected power harassment by House of Representatives member Mayuko Toyota, 42, surfaced after her secretary, who recently resigned, provided the Shukan Shincho weekly magazine with an audio recording of his conversations with the lawmaker. In one segment, someone thought to be Toyota can be heard uttering such abusive phrases as "You'd better die. You are not worth living."
Such utterances are problematic not just as a lawmaker but also as a member of society. We should be keenly aware of the abhorrent reality that such a personality is serving as a member of our legislature.
According to the Shukan Shincho report, Toyota also beat the secretary with a coat hanger.
An explicitly hierarchical relationship between a lawmaker and their secretaries is not something uncommon in Japanese politics. On the other hand, power harassment at workplaces in the private sector is under increasing scrutiny -- a natural trend in modern society.
Toyota's language and behavior, however, is in stark contrast to such social norms, as if she was totally unaware of them. And those abusive words and actions came out of this lawmaker who once served as a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry bureaucrat and who has been focused on social security policy, for which respect toward the socially vulnerable is indispensable.
The LDP obviously scrambled to punish Toyota as the approval ratings for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet have plunged recently over suspected favoritism, including a scandal over a plan to launch a veterinary school in a national strategic special economic zone by Kake Educational Institution, headed by an Abe confidant. The LDP apparently attempted to minimize the adverse effects from the Toyota incident ahead of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
One cannot help but feel a sense of deja vu about the latest scandal that rocked the LDP. Toyota was first elected to the lower house in 2012 when the LDP marched back into power, and is currently serving her second term. Among the LDP lawmakers who won their first seats in the 2012 election are Takaya Muto, who eventually left the party over financial troubles; Kensuke Miyazaki, who later resigned his seat over an alleged extramarital relationship; and Toshinao Nakagawa, who also left the party over an extramarital affair.
There has even been a phrase coined for these and the many other LDP lawmakers first elected in that year who have come under attack for gaffes and other misconduct: "The LDP's 2012 problem." This raises the question about whether the party's candidate selections were appropriate.
As for Toyota, she may have become overconfident, possibly thinking that she was elected twice to the lower chamber entirely on her own merits. Her power harassment is not a mere personal problem, but should rather be treated as an organizational one. The LDP must move forward with full-scale re-education of its junior lawmakers.
The Abe Cabinet has recently been lenient on its problem members. If such a permissive atmosphere is feeding moral decline, the administration had better rethink its internal culture.