Tsujimoto makes it official; will run despite fraud

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OSAKA — Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a former House of Representatives member who was convicted of fraud in February, formally announced here Monday that she will run in the House of Councilors election next month as an independent.

“Over the past two or three years, the political situation has turned grave, and Japan seems to be going in the opposite direction of everything I believe in,” Tsujimoto told a news conference.

She began by apologizing for the loss of public trust over a scandal involving her secretaries’ salaries.

In February, Tsujimoto was handed a suspended two-year prison term for swindling the government out of nearly 18.7 million yen in state-paid salaries for two women falsely registered as her secretaries. She resigned from the Diet in March 2002 and was arrested in July 2003.

“I have spent the past two years reflecting on what happened, and I have finally decided to run in order to let the people of Osaka decide whether or not I should be trusted again,” she said.

Tsujimoto, known as a fiery populist who once berated Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during Diet questioning over dispatching the Self-Defense Forces abroad, said the war in Iraq and Japan’s response had confirmed her worst fears about the current government.

“I felt back in 2001 that Koizumi would lead Japan to war,” she said. “When I brought up the issue of Japanese troops going abroad, many people thought I was an alarmist.

“Now, Japanese troops are in Iraq and may be going to Afghanistan, and I feel a sense of danger for Japan.”

A dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Afghanistan is not on Japan’s current political agenda.

Although Tsujimoto is officially running as an independent, her former party, the Social Democratic Party, has said it will assist with her campaign activities. Popular TV comedian Shinsuke Shimada has also sent her a letter of support and might help with her campaign.

Tsujimoto’s candidacy has received a mixed reaction locally, even among her former supporters. While she remains popular personally, voters appear divided over whether she should be attempting a political comeback while still serving out a suspended sentence.

“I hope Tsujimoto wins and I plan to vote for her,” said Hiroshi Sumida, a 46-year-old Osaka resident who called himself a longtime supporter of Tsujimoto. “But I can’t help but feel she is rushing things.

“She was just arrested last year sentenced this year. A lot of voters feel she should wait until the next Lower House election to run.”

It is expected that a total of five candidates from Osaka will run for the three seats in Osaka’s third district.