Staff writer

The 75-day extraordinary Diet session that starts Sept. 29 might as well be 75 km of rocky detour for Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who will try to steer clear of ethics-related debris.

Originally the session was to take up a bill to rebuild the nation’s coffers, a bill to establish public nursing-care insurance for ailing elderly and another to tighten penalties against “sokaiya” corporate extortionists and businesses that pay them off.

But that was before Hashimoto made a flagrant political blunder by appointing a liberal democrat with a past bribery conviction to his Cabinet, and before an oil wholesaler currently on trial for tax evasion and fraud alleged that he made illicit political donations to key Liberal Democratic Party officials. It was a sudden turn in fortunes for Hashimoto, who on Sept. 11 was easily re-elected to a second term as LDP president.

Although he has repeatedly offered apologies to the public for appointing Koko Sato, the man at the center of the Lockheed bribery scandal, as head of the Management and Coordination Agency, it appears the opposition camp will nonetheless urge the prime minister to step down to take responsibility for sparking political turmoil. Sato resigned Sept. 22.

Takeo Nishioka, secretary general of Shinshinto, the largest opposition party, said earlier this week that his party will join with the Democratic Party of Japan and the Taiyo Party to take concerted action on this front.

Nishioka added that the three parties may call on the Social Democratic Party, one of the LDP’s two small allies, to join in attacking Hashimoto over the Sato incident. The SDP, whose leader Takako Doi is keen on political ethics, had threatened to cut ties with the LDP over the Sato incident. Although Sato’s resignation saved the alliance, “mutual trust between the two parties has been impaired and has not been recovered,” Doi said Sept. 24.

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