Motley group of political hopefuls begins stumping

Scammers, skier and singer

Disgraced former politicians, the brother of a North Korea abductee and a famous athlete were among the candidates launching campaigns Thursday for the July 11 House of Councilors election.

In Hokkaido, former House of Representatives member Muneo Suzuki, on trial for bribery and other charges, asked the voters to send him back to the national political stage.

“Please help me get elected — this would be a miracle,” Suzuki, 56, a former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, told the audience of about 300 in front of his campaign office in Sapporo. He is running as an independent in the Hokkaido constituency.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a former rising star of the Social Democratic Party who received a suspended prison sentence for defrauding the state by pocketing the pay of secretaries who never worked for her, appeared in front of Takatsuki Station in Osaka Prefecture.

“I have to start this election by apologizing,” said a tearful Tsujimoto, 44, who recently left the SDP and is running as an independent.

“I cannot keep my mouth shut that I heard while in custody that a law had been enacted to enable the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq,” said the outspoken Tsujimoto, who still enjoys strong support in her constituency.

In Tokyo, independent candidate Teruaki Masumoto, whose sister was abducted by North Korea in 1978, began his campaign by criticizing the government for being too soft toward Pyongyang.

“The abduction issue concerns all Japanese people,” the 48-year-old Masumoto said, standing with other relatives of Japanese who were abducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s “The government should tell North Korea that Japan will never offer to normalize relations if it refuses to allow all abductees to return.”

Olympic gold medalist Kenji Ogiwara, 34, joining the race for a proportional representation seat on the Liberal Democratic Party ticket, marched through central Tokyo with his supporters.

“Now I am shifting into landing position, in ski jump terms,” the former Nordic combined skier said. “I want to (enter) politics by displaying my sportsmanship.”

Okinawa musician and peace activist Shokichi Kina, a candidate of the Democratic Party of Japan, played the “sanshin” trichord and sang his hit song “Haisai Ojisan” (“Hi, Old Man”) outside Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station.

Kina, 56, told his audience that present-day Japanese politics are dominated by the United States.

In Okinawa, the election will highlight a clear division between the ruling and opposition camps in the prefecture, which has a strong U.S. military presence.

Masatoshi Onaga, 55, the LDP candidate backed by the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, and Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine, endorses the planned relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps air station within the prefecture under certain conditions, including setting a time limit for its use.

But Keiko Itokazu, 56, the only candidate in the election to be jointly fielded by opposition parties, opposes the plan, arguing it is possible to close, instead of relocate, the air base under the planned realignment of U.S. military forces around the world.

Former Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima began campaigning in the capital, criticizing the ruling coalition over reforms to the state pension program and the deployment of troops to Iraq.

“The House of Councilors should play a part in correcting errors by the House of Representatives,” the 71-year-old independent said, expressing concerns that in recent years too many significant bills have been pushed through the Diet without adequate discussion.

Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka meanwhile addressed a crowd in Tokyo’s Shibuya district.