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Editorial: Groups behind fake signatures for Aichi governor recall must be revealed

Four people including the secretary-general of a campaigning group have been arrested in connection with the petition to recall Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura. The four are suspected of contravening the Local Autonomy Act by forging signatures.

    Recall provisions allow for a democratically elected local government head's removal from office. If the fraudulent signatures allegation proves true, it will rock the direct democracy system underpinning Japan's local autonomy.

    A portion of the signatures are thought to have been penned by part-time workers in distant Saga, a city on Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu. It is suspected that Takahiro Tanaka, who headed the campaign and is under arrest, gathered the fraudulent signatures through an advertising firm in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture's capital.

    The recorded cost of recruiting part-time workers for the bought signatures reportedly clocked in at some 4.7 million yen (about $43,000). If money has been paid to obtain false signatures, it is a deeply malicious act, and the source of the funds should also be investigated.

    To produce what appeared to be the legitimate signatures of Aichi residents, a source text would be required, and it appears some kind of name registry was used. What documents were misused also needs to be brought to light.

    The Aichi Prefecture election commission has ruled that 83% -- about 360,000 people's worth -- of the signatures demanding the governor's recall were invalid. Many appear to be in the same hand, and people ineligible to vote and the deceased were also among the signatories.

    The enormous scale of the wrongdoing has raised suspicions that multiple parties were involved in a systematic way. Who led this campaign with what aims, and what was the chain of command for enacting it? Aichi Prefectural Police must reveal the truth in a thorough investigation.

    Moves to recall Gov. Omura emerged out of objections to his handling of disagreements around the Aichi Triennale arts festival. Plastic surgeon Katsuya Takasu, chair of the movement to recall the governor, has denied any involvement in illegal activity. Still, he should give a full explanation of the movement.

    Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura saw himself as a supporter of the group. He provided the movement with a list of people involved in gathering signatures for a previous campaign he led to dissolve the city assembly; he cannot avoid responsibility.

    At the time of the recall campaign, Tanaka was a prospective candidate for Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) in upcoming House of Representatives elections. Other local assembly members were also involved, and as a party they need to conduct an exhaustive investigation.

    A case of forged signatures like the one seen here was not anticipated in the provisions for the recall system. Aichi Prefectural Government election officials are responding by submitting proposals to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications regarding toughening the rules around signature collection.

    Trust in systems allowing residents to keep watch on local administrations must not be damaged. For this reason, too, the whole truth concerning the incident must be revealed.

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