TSURUOKA, Yamagata Pref. – Former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Koichi Kato, who resigned from the Diet in April 2002 over financial scandals, said Saturday he will run in the next House of Representatives election.
“If I can be forgiven, I want to engage in politics again,” Kato, 63, said at a New Year’s party for supporters in his home constituency of Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture.
Kato apologized for the scandals saying, “Last year was the most bitter in my life. I have no words to express my remorse for betraying your trust and confidence.
“Sometimes I thought I lacked discretion as a man engaging in politics. It would be a lie if I said there were not a couple of days when I thought of leaving politics,” Kato said, in an apparent attempt to solicit sympathy from supporters.
While the current four-year tenure of Lower House members runs through June 2004, speculation is mounting that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will dissolve the chamber for a snap election sometime this year.
Kato himself predicted that the election would most likely be held in the fall of this year.
Kato, who was once considered a leading candidate for future prime minister, resigned amid tax evasion scandals involving former aide Saburo Sato as well as allegations that the lawmaker himself had misappropriated political funds for private purposes.
After his resignation in April, Kato, a longtime political ally of Koizumi, repeatedly appeared in his electoral constituency to apologize to his supporters.
He served as a lecturer at Columbia University in New York from October to December in 2002, before returning to Japan.
A by-election in October to fill Kato’s Yamagata No. 4 constituency was won by Jun Saito, a Yale University graduate school student who ran on the opposition Democratic Party of Japan’s ticket.
In December, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Sato to a two-year prison term, suspended for four years, and ordered him to pay 43 million yen in fines.
Kato was one of several Diet members who resigned over financial scandals last year, although he is the first to announce a comeback bid.
Former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and Kiyomi Tsujimoto, of the Social Democratic Party, who both left the Diet over allegations they misappropriated the state-paid salaries of their secretaries, have not commented on whether they plan to run in the general election.
LDP office breaks law
KUMAMOTO (Kyodo) The office of a lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party sent New Year’s greetings to his constituents, a possible violation of the Public Office Election Law, authorities involved in the case said Saturday.
The greeting cards were sent by the office of Takeshi Hayashida, a House of Representatives member elected on the party’s proportional representation ticket from the Kyushu bloc, to voters in his constituency, including the city of Tamana, Kumamoto Prefecture, they said.
The law prohibits elected officials from sending greeting cards to people in their constituencies.
“We sent the cards without an instruction from the lawmaker himself,” an official of Hayashida’s office said. “We didn’t know it was illegal.”
According to Hayashida’s office, the card had New Year’s greetings and the lawmaker’s name printed on it. The office said it sent out about 1,500 cards to local voters based on a directory of supporters.
Hayashida, 58, was first elected to the Lower House in 1999 and re-elected to the chamber the following year under the proportional representation system.
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