Shinshinto was rocked Feb. 18 by mushrooming allegations that a former member of the main opposition party at the center of a massive fraud scandal may have bought his candidacy ahead of a 1995 Diet election.

In a rare move, Shinshinto’s leadership said it will postpone for a month or more the national convention it had planned to hold next Feb. 26. Later in the day, a general meeting of Shinshinto lawmakers was thrown into turmoil as the party leadership, led by Ichiro Ozawa, forcibly closed the session after ignoring the opinions of rank-and-file members over the scandal.

The general meeting was abruptly stopped after only 25 minutes following a brief report from party leaders on why Upper House member Tatsuo Tomobe, currently under arrest on suspicion of massive fraud involving his family-run Orange Kyosai Kumiai, came to run in the 1995 Upper House election on the Shinshinto ticket. “We will close the meeting here and we will have other opportunities in the near future to talk about party-related matters,” Mikio Omi, chairman of the meeting said.

The announcement quickly drew cries of protest from a number of members demanding that the meeting be continued to discuss how to rebuild the scandal-stricken party. “It was completely unexpected that the party leadership would put such an end to the meeting. We believe it is against democracy,” Lower House member Shigefumi Matsuzawa said angrily after the meeting.

Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa also apologized for troubling party colleagues with problems related to Tomobe. The tumultuous meeting was only the latest indication of the problems facing Shinshinto.

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