OSAKA — The game is finally up for Osaka Gov. “Knock” Yokoyama.
Yokoyama announced his resignation Tuesday morning, just hours before prosecutors indicted him over a criminal complaint filed by a 21-year-old university student, accusing Yokoyama of groping her inside a campaign van in April.
The comedian-turned politician, who was re-elected last April with 2.35 million votes — the most ever for an Osaka governor — should have realized sooner that there was no salvaging the situation with the voters.
Yokoyama’s tactics in fighting an earlier damages suit brought by the woman — in which he refused to either deny or confirm the allegations in court while calling her a liar outside — backfired spectacularly. His image as a man on the same level as the ordinary person was replaced by that of a politician trying to fix problems with the influence of money.
A lawyer who represented the woman in the lawsuit said Yokoyama was trying to end the suit as quickly as possible by not contesting the case in court so the public would forget it as soon as it was over.
Indeed, the suit proceedings came to an end exceptionally quickly — in less than three months — but Yokoyama miscalculated public opinion and the court’s ruling.
According to a poll conducted by the daily Mainichi Shimbun before the Dec. 13 ruling, 61 percent of the respondents said they disagreed with Yokoyama’s tactics in court, while 50 percent said he should resign if he lost the suit.
The Osaka District Court, in its ruling, severely criticized Yokoyama’s tactics in the lawsuit as an outright challenge to the judicial system.
The court concluded that his counter-complaint against the woman — in which he claimed he was falsely accused — as well as his repeated remarks that her charge was “obviously a lie,” were more damaging than the groping itself.
The court ordered him to pay 8 million yen for the dam age caused by the counter-complaint and his remarks, in addition to 2 million yen for the groping and 1 million yen to cover the victim’s legal fees.
Effectively ignoring the proceedings, Yokoyama continued to claim that the truth would come out through the pending criminal investigation, apparently in the hope that prosecutors would not take up the case because there was little evidence other than the woman’s testimony.
But he was wrong.
“Even now, Yokoyama probably thinks he has done nothing wrong and does not understand the ruling criticizing him because he has no idea of women’s rights,” said Junko Kuninobu, a professor of women’s studies at Aichi Shukutoku University. “(The woman’s case) is rare because it is the only one that has surfaced among many that have occurred (involving Yokoyama).”
Yokoyama has admitted he sat next to the woman under a blanket in the back seat of the campaign van. According to his explanation, he covered the woman, then one of his part-time campaign staffers, with the blanket because she was sick and Yokoyama himself felt a little cold.
“I did not think the situation was wrong at all. It was nothing but natural (to sit together under one blanket),” Yokoyama said.
But Yoneko Matsuura, a member of the Mihariban local citizens’ group, believes otherwise. “We are ashamed to have a governor who has different standards of human rights.
“He should have resigned before things got so ugly.” She added that people close to him should have advised him to step down much earlier.
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