The leader of Japan's main opposition Democratic Party said on Friday he
would resign to take responsibility for a botched attempt to discredit Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling party.
opposition Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara bows at the party
headquarters in Tokyo, February 28, 2006. Maehara plans to step down,
public broadcaster NHK and other media reported on Friday.
The departure of Seiji Maehara, along with the rest of the party leadership,
is likely to be a big blow to the Democrats, who took a pounding from Koizumi's
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a general election last September.
The party's fortunes ebbed further earlier this year after lawmaker Hisayasu
Nagata failed to prove charges he made in parliament of shady links between the
LDP and Takafumi Horie, former chief executive of scandal-hit Internet firm
"I will resign as party leader to take full responsibility for troubling the
public and party supporters," Maehara, 43, told party lawmakers in a meeting
later shown on television.
Nagata, who was suspended from the party last month, is set to resign his
seat as a lawmaker, media reports said.
Nagata had claimed that Horie had ordered company officials in an e-mail to
pay 30 million yen ($255,700) in consulting fees to the son of LDP Secretary
General Tsutomu Takebe.
Maehara played up the accusations, and the Democrats' eventual admission that
the e-mail was false turned what had seemed a golden political opportunity into
"The Democrats were really beaten by the LDP last fall, and now they'll just
lose more ground to them since they've lost so much credibility over this," said
independent political analyst Harumi Arima.
In a poll published earlier this week, just 1 percent of respondents cited
Maehara as their choice for prime minister when Koizumi steps down in September.
Even among Democratic Party supporters, a mere 2 percent backed their party
chief for the nation's top job, the poll by Nihon Keizai financial daily showed.
Political analysts said that while Maehara's resignation would give the party
an opportunity to repair its battered credibility, recovery would be difficult,
particularly with an election for parliament's Upper House due next year.
"Maehara really should have quit earlier when everything first blew up --
that would have obtained some sympathy for the party," said independent
political commentator Mineaki Yamamoto.
"As it is, though, his dragging things out has made the whole situation
The hawkish Maehara took charge of the party last September after an LDP
election landslide that saw the Democrats lose 62 seats and prompted the
resignation of his predecessor.
The LDP won 295 seats in the 480-seat lower house. Its junior coalition
partner New Komeito took 31 and the Democrats 113.
After narrowly edging former party leader Naoto Kan to take the leadership
post, Maehara vowed to convince voters that his party was a viable alternative
to the long-ruling LDP.
The LDP, which backed Horie as an independent reform candidate in the
election, came under fire after the entrepreneur was arrested in January and
indicted on charges of breaking securities laws.