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Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Lower House seeks Sakai's resignation

Resolution demanding tarnished lawmaker's head unanimously passed


Staff writer

The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling for Takanori Sakai, a Lower House member arrested earlier this month for allegedly falsifying political funds reports, to resign.

News photo
Takanori Sakai

Sakai became the third Diet member to be slapped with the nonbinding resolution, and it remains unclear if he will step down. The previous two targets -- House of Councilors member Tatsuo Tomobe in 1997 and Lower House member Muneo Suzuki last year -- refused to comply.

Tomobe eventually lost his seat after being sentenced to prison for his role in an investment scam. Suzuki, who has been charged with bribery, is still a lawmaker.

Although Tuesday's resolution was passed unanimously during a plenary session, a few lawmakers left the chamber before the vote was taken. Others joined the session afterward, apparently in protest.

Liberal Democratic Party member Taro Kono said he opposed the resolution, arguing that under law, a criminal suspect is innocent until found guilty.

He added that the wishes of the Diet member in question, not the collective decision of the legislature, should be respected first.

Kono claimed he stood up and tried to voice his objection, but Lower House Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki ignored him and declared that no objection had been raised from the floor.

"Things that are fundamental to the basis of democracy should be treated accordingly, and this is a different issue from whether what Mr. Sakai did was right or wrong," Kono told reporters after the session.

The vote on the resolution, which was submitted by four opposition parties, was originally planned for last week but was delayed because the opposition camp argued that the massive media coverage of the launch of the U.S.-led strike on Iraq would lessen the impact of the resolution.

The LDP, which expelled Sakai upon his arrest, held a meeting of its political reform study group earlier in the day in an apparent gesture aimed at appeasing voters fed up with corruption scandals.

LDP executives discussed lowering the current limit on the amount of annual donations that a firm can make to a party chapter, but nothing concrete was decided, participants of the meeting said.

At present, firms can donate between 7.5 million yen to 100 million yen every year; the amount depends on such factors as startup capital and number of employees.

"We should make it clear that we're not sending a message that fewer donations mean better politics," a participant said, apparently fearing that tighter controls on fundraising could reduce the flow of corporate donations to the party.

Some LDP members have floated the idea of greatly easing restrictions on anonymous donations in return for setting up a more stringent limit on the total amount of corporate donations. Experts say this would only make political donation flows more opaque.



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