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Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, who has been the glue linking the intraparty groups within the Democratic Party of Japan, announced April 30 that he will resign as a Diet member.

In a move that surprised virtually the entire Diet, he told a news conference that he wants to quit because his duty in realizing an expanded DPJ is completed.

It is the first resignation by a former prime minister who apparently has no compelling reason to step down. Hosokawa, aged 60, was almost certain to be re-elected to the Diet for years to come.

It was an oddly subdued end to a political life for a man who only five years ago broke the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s 38-year grip on political power. He seemed to hold out hope of altering Japan’s political world and shot to fame as a reformer. He served as prime minister in 1993 before abruptly resigning in a scandal over political donations.

Coming from a family with a history of feudal lords and a few prime minister equivalents around the 14th century, Hosokawa released a two-page statement that began with a quote from a poem by his 16th century ancestor, Garasha Hosokawa. It read: “The cherry blossom knows the time to wither, that is how flowers are, the same applies to people.”

He tendered his resignation to Lower House Speaker Soichiro Ito around 3 p.m. He told a hastily arranged news conference that he had always wanted to retire when he turned 60 years old. “When I entered the political world, I was thinking that I would put a period on the end of my political career at the age of 60,” he said. “The fact that the new Democratic Party of Japan has been inaugurated has given me a chance to follow my initial intention.”

Hosokawa played a central role in bringing four opposition parties together under the banner of the expanded DPJ. He said he feels relief that a step has been taken toward establishing a more democratic system in which power can be transferred from one party to another.

As Hosokawa had discussed his intention to resign only with his family and a few close friends, the announcement came as a total surprise to most Diet members, including DPJ members. After submitting his resignation, Hosokawa met with Naoto Kan, the DPJ head, and DPJ Secretary General Tsutomu Hata to discuss his departure.

Hosokawa said both “were so surprised they were speechless.” A pensive Naoto Kan, the DPJ head, later told reporters, “This is a serious blow to us, but we have to take it in a positive way.”

Hata told reporters later that he greatly regrets Hosokawa’s resignation and the impact it will have on the new party. “This means that a major name in our party is now gone,” he said.

Hosokawa told his news conference that he “apologizes to all DPJ members,” but that he will continue to support the DPJ as an outsider. Commenting on his next move, Hosokawa said he has nothing in mind at the moment, but added that he wants to be involved in politics as a non-Diet member and will continue to make efforts to turn politics into a forum that can realize the wishes of the public. “I know there are many things to be done (to improve Japan’s politics), but this does not mean that I will stop being involved in politics,” he said. He did not say how he will remain involved.

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