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The president of the House of Councilors tendered his resignation Friday to take responsibility for an alleged payoff scandal in which his policy secretary reportedly received 64 million yen in connection with a public works project.

The Upper House is expected to officially accept Yutaka Inoue’s resignation and elect his successor at Monday’s plenary session, making Inoue the chamber’s first president to vacate the post over a scandal.

The incident, involving the veteran lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, dealt a fresh blow to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose administration has been rocked since February by a series of money scandals involving key politicians.

Former Upper House President Juro Saito is the most likely candidate to succeed Inoue, but the LDP is also considering Yutaka Takeyama, chairman of the LDP’s Upper House members.

The LDP is taking time to research the backgrounds of candidates as the opposition camp has demanded that the LDP carefully choose Inoue’s successor to avoid another scandal. The chamber’s president is customarily chosen from the largest party.

“I would like to resign from my post to avoid further confusion in the Diet,” LDP heavyweight Mikio Aoki quoted Inoue as saying Friday. Inoue, who will remain in the Diet, told Aoki and Takeyama that he would step down before tendering his resignation.

The move is likely to hurt the LDP’s chances in two Diet by-elections in Niigata and Wakayama prefectures and Tokushima’s gubernatorial election on April 28. LDP losses in those elections would weaken Koizumi’s political foundation.

Meanwhile, a Jiji Press poll released Friday shows that Koizumi’s support rate has plunged to 40.8 percent, down 2.7 percentage points from the previous month. LDP supporters decreased to 19.6 percent while independent voters stood at 62.4 percent, the highest since Koizumi took office.

The results apparently reflect deepening public distrust of political parties and politicians in general as various scandals involving lawmakers continue to emerge.

Inoue’s resignation came after ex-LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato vacated his Diet seat on April 8 over a tax evasion scandal involving his former secretary, and former LDP senior member Muneo Suzuki left the party on March 15 for improperly influencing the Foreign Ministry. Suzuki remains in the Diet.

Public distrust of politics further deepened when Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, gave up her Diet seat last month to take responsibility for misappropriating her former secretary’s state-paid salary.

“It is truly regrettable that we are seeing yet another incident arising from a politician-secretary relationship,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said, referring to Inoue’s resignation.

With Inoue stepping down, the alleged payoff involving his secretary is unlikely to be investigated further.

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