DPJ’s Goto to resign from Diet

Aides' indictment in pay scandal prompts veteran's ouster

by Reiji Yoshida

In another political blow to the nation’s largest opposition party, veteran lawmaker Masanori Goto of the Democratic Party of Japan said Monday he will resign after two key aides admitted earlier in the day to illegally paying campaign workers in the Sept. 11 general election.

At a news conference in Tokyo, the 66-year-old lawmaker from Kochi Prefecture said he will tender his letter of resignation to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, Tomohiro Fujisawa, a member of the Kochi Municipal Assembly, agreed to accept a summary indictment for illegally paying 136,000 yen to two of Goto’s election workers, according to the Kochi prefectural chapter of the DPJ.

He was expected to submit his resignation from the city assembly on Tuesday, according to chapter officials.

In addition, Masatoshi Yabuki, 50, a policy secretary to Goto, pleaded guilty Monday at the opening of his trial at the Kochi District Court for paying 2.15 million yen to 19 supporters as remuneration for helping with Goto’s election campaigns.

If Yabuki is convicted, Goto will lose his seat in the Lower House due to the guilt-by-association stipulation in the Public Offices Election Law.

Yabuki, according to prosecutors, served as the chief organizer of Goto’s election campaign in September.

“I believe (the prosecutors’ charges) are very unfair,” Goto told the news conference, saying that the work the people were paid to do could not be considered campaign work.

However, Goto said he would still resign because he respects the decision of the two men to accept the prosecutors’ charges, given their ailing health and long detention after their arrests.

The Public Offices Election Law prohibits a candidate or his or her supporters from paying remuneration to campaign workers, except for those performing certain jobs, which include clerical work or speaking over loudspeakers while riding around in campaign trucks.

Goto claimed the supporters allegedly paid by Fujisawa and Yabuki were mainly engaged in simple labor, such as clerical work or running errands. The supporters in question waved to passersby and took part in campaign meetings, but it was not their main job, he said.

Indeed, the line between paid political campaign efforts banned by law and simple clerical work that is legal is quite fine. For example, paying for writing voter addresses on postcards is considered legal, but paying supporters to make phone calls to them is not.

Goto, a former member of the Socialist Party who joined the DPJ in 1996, lost in the single-seat Kochi No. 1 district in the September election but won a seat through proportional representation in the Shikoku regional block.

A former medical doctor, Goto is known as an expert on medical and welfare issues.