Tsujimoto quits SDP, says party has lost its way

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — Lower House member Kiyomi Tsujimoto resigned Tuesday from the Social Democratic Party over the SDP’s exit from the ruling bloc amid the Futenma base row and after its poor showing in the July 11 Upper House election.

Indicating she will become an independent, the SDP stalwart said about her exit that politicians must work for the people, not just their party.

Widely known for her debate skills on TV news shows and Diet sessions, Tsujimoto has been a key SDP member and her departure is expected to deal another blow to the already reeling party.

“Up until today, I had wanted to achieve my policy goals as a member of the SDP. But many things have happened recently. I worry that a small party will not be able to effect policy changes if it is outside the Cabinet,” Tsujimoto said at a news conference in Osaka.

“In the recent Upper House election, the SDP (emerged with only) two seats. Why did this happen? People supported us for honoring our word. But maybe the result reflected criticism of the SDP for not being patient, and for not seeking a way to continue on in the Cabinet to accomplish our goals,” she said.

Tsujimoto said the party’s recent direction has worried her, especially after it left the Democratic Party of Japan-led Cabinet in late May over the dispute regarding the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

The SDP wanted the base moved outside the prefecture, but then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama concluded a deal with the U.S. to keep it in Okinawa, prompting her party to leave the ruling bloc.

Although Tsujimoto said leaving the bloc was not a mistake, she indicated her constituents expected her not to just work on behalf of the SDP.

“I heard from lots of people who said it would have been more effective to reflect the voices of the Okinawan people had we stayed in the coalition. And voters told me that it’s not just the SDP they wanted, but the SDP within the coalition government,” Tsujimoto said, adding it became difficult in recent weeks for her to simply toe the party line.

Tsujimoto served as senior vice minister for land, transport and tourism and had a good working relationship with transport minister Seiji Maehara of the DPJ.