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Tuesday, April 22, 2003

NCP to ban Matsunami from holding party posts

Staff writer

Despite mounting public pressure for Kenshiro Matsunami to resign from the House of Representatives, the New Conservative Party decided Monday it would only prevent him from holding any party posts.

The 56-year-old lawmaker admitted last week that he received 2.75 million yen in illicit donations from a yakuza-affiliated construction company between 1997 and 1998.

"As (Matsunami) himself offered to do, we have decided to have him refrain from taking any post in the party (as a move to clarify his responsibility for the matter)," NCP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai said.

Matsunami has been serving as the NCP's deputy Diet affairs chief but will be ousted from that position Tuesday.

The NCP also decided that the lawmaker should be allowed to speak at an open session of the Council on Political Ethics of the Lower House to explain his relationship with the construction firm.

Matsunami has requested that the council's session, which is traditionally closed to the public, be open when he makes his case. Other members of the ruling camp -- the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito -- have agreed.

But the opposition parties, arguing that the council has in the past failed to actively delve into political scandals, have demanded that Matsunami be summoned as an unsworn witness to the Lower House Budget Committee, Diet sources said.

On Monday, a grim-faced Matsunami appeared at a news conference after having cut off his trademark ponytail.

"I feel I need to be reborn," Matsunami explained, expressing his intention not to resign as a lawmaker and to "fulfill his responsibility (as a Diet member) to explain" the situation.

He strongly denied media reports that he has maintained ties with the gangster involved in the scandal, and said he would like to explain the facts at the political ethics council.

Some NCP members and ruling coalition members have pressed Matsunami to resign, fearing the negative impact the scandal might have on ongoing local elections and the next general election for the Lower House, which must be held by June 2004.

But at Monday's news conference, the NCP's Nikai defended Matsunami, saying all party members have agreed to respect his intention to remain a Diet member and speak at the ethics council. The party said last week that Matsunami's actions did not violate any laws.

Matsunami, a former amateur wrestling champion, has often appeared on TV and remains a well-known figure. His celebrity has been something of an asset to the NCP, the smallest member of the ruling triumvirate with only 14 members. He is currently serving his second term in the chamber, representing the No. 19 constituency in Osaka.

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The Japan Times

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