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Higashikokubaru opts out of Nippon Ishin, Diet

by Reiji Yoshida and Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writers

Lower House member and former Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru said Wednesday he has left Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and will quit as a Diet member, raising speculation that he might try to run for governor of Tokyo or seek his old job in Miyazaki.

“I just submitted my letter of departure from Nippon Ishin no Kai to the secretary general of the party’s Diet group, Yorihisa Matsuno,” Higashikokubaru told reporters Wednesday night at the Diet.

He said he will take the procedures for leaving the Diet after the party formally accepts his exit.

On his official blog, the former comedian said he was quitting Nippon Ishin because it has deviated from its original policy ideals and has been deeply split between its members based in Osaka and in Tokyo.

He said he is leaving the Diet to “return” the seat he was given by Nippon Ishin. Higashikokubaru was elected in the general election last December through the proportional representation segment.

“I believe my role in Nippon Ishin is done,” he wrote.

Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose has recently been hit by a major money scandal involving ¥50 million he received from the Tokushukai hospital group that he claims was a personal loan, leaving him open to harsh criticism from the public and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Some observers speculate he may soon be forced out of office.

He received the money just before he started his campaign last December from the medical group, which is being probed for election law violations.

Higashikokubaru is known for his ambition to win a prominent political post.

But he flatly denied this at the news conference.

Asked if he would seek the Tokyo governorship, he said: “To be honest, it’s not clear whether (an early poll) will be held. . . . But there’s no possibility that I’ll run in the gubernatorial election.”

He added that he also has no plan to run again in the Miyazaki gubernatorial election, scheduled to be held next December or in January 2015.

Higashikokubaru said he hasn’t decided his next step, except to suggest he may try to get involved in a nonprofit organization, such as one that promotes agriculture and regional revitalization.

In last December’s Tokyo gubernatorial election, Higashikokubaru reportedly considered joining the race but eventually declined, saying he wouldn’t have enough time to prepare.

Instead he ran for the Lower House on the Nippon Ishin ticket.

Higashikokubaru ran for Tokyo governor in 2011 but lost to Shintaro Ishihara.

In October this year, the Miyazaki Nichinichi Shimbun reported that Higashikokubaru was considering running in the next Miyazaki gubernatorial election, which will be held either next December or in January 2015.

The report surprised political circles in Miyazaki, because Higashikokubaru, who held the post from 2007 to 2011, didn’t run for a second term because he “felt a limit to what the governor can do.”

In 2009, Higashikokubaru demanded that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party make him its president.

The LDP, which had asked Higashikokubaru to run for a Lower House seat on the party ticket, flatly turned down his bold demand.

As Miyazaki governor, Higashikokubaru had overwhelming popularity among local voters, but he repeatedly indicated his desire to be a national-level politician.