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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wakabayashi exits Diet due to illicit votes

LDP veteran cast for absentee

Staff writer

Former farm minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi resigned from the Diet Friday after coming under fire for manipulating a parliamentary vote earlier in the week.

News photo
Masatoshi Wakabayashi

Wakabayashi, a Liberal Democratic Party veteran, has been accused by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan for pressing the voting button Wednesday of fellow LDP lawmaker Mikio Aoki, who was absent from an Upper House plenary vote to approve NHK's budget.

Wakabayashi submitted a letter of resignation Friday morning to Satsuki Eda, president of the Upper House.

His resignation was later accepted during an Upper House plenary session.

"I pushed the (voting) button, expecting that former (LDP) Upper House leader Mikio Aoki would be returning in a moment," Wakabayashi told reporters Friday. "I wasn't thinking straight. It was an unforgivable act, and I'd like to apologize."

Aoki, a former head of the LDP Upper House caucus whose seat in the chamber is located next to Wakabayashi's, told reporters Friday he never asked Wakabayashi to vote on his behalf.

"I knew nothing about the incident, and was very surprised," Aoki said.

Aoki reportedly said he left the chamber before the vote because he had something to do.

According to the Upper House secretariat, records show that both Wakabayashi and Aoki voted on 10 bills during the Wednesday plenary session, including the fiscal 2010 budget for NHK.

The votes weren't close on any of the 10 bills, it said.

Wakabayashi said at his press conference he pressed Aoki's button for all 10 votes.

Finance Minister Naoto Kan criticized Wakabayashi's so-called vote-rigging as a serious and "unthinkable" act.

"It will be a constitutional problem if someone is allowed to vote on behalf of someone else," Kan said.

Wakabayashi, 75, is the first Diet member accused of manipulating votes since the Upper House introduced voting buttons in the 1998 ordinary Diet session.

He was serving his second term, after losing his seat in the Lower House, and has already announced he would be retiring from politics after his current term was up in July.

Wakabayashi served his first Cabinet post as environment minister in 2006 under then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He later concurrently served as farm minister, taking up the post left vacant by Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who committed suicide, and Norihiko Akagi, who was sacked over a funds scandal. He took up the post of farm minister again in September 2007 under the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

After being briefed on the incident Thursday, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki reportedly moved fast to repair the damage by ordering LDP Upper House leader Hidehisa Otsuji to oust Wakabayashi.

But the resignation still comes as a heavy blow for a party that has been suffering low public support and is beset by a stream of defectors since it was ousted from power in August's Lower House poll.

Calls have been mounting within the LDP requesting a shakeup of the party executives, with many questioning Tanigaki's ability to lead.

Yasuharu Ishizawa, professor of politics and media at Gakushuin Women's College, said Wakabayashi's resignation will hamper the LDP's attempts to increase its support rate prior to the July Upper House poll by capitalizing on the Cabinet's dwindling public approval rate, which now hovers around 30 percent.

"Voters are now further disillusioned with both the DPJ and the LDP," he said.

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The Japan Times

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