• Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

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Former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka will run as an independent in the next House of Representatives election, expected to be held in November, her aides said Wednesday.

Tanaka, 59, told her office in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, that she will vie for the Lower House seat in the Niigata No. 5 electoral district, centering on Nagaoka.

This is the constituency Tanaka represented until she resigned as a lawmaker in August 2002, the aides said.

According to her lawyer, Tanaka no longer considers herself a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, which suspended her party membership for two years in June 2002.

On Sunday, Tanaka said she was willing to try to win back her Diet seat but would not announce her candidacy that day. She said she needed to confirm whether she would be expelled from the LDP by running.

If she is still an LDP member and runs against an incumbent officially backed by the party, she will be breaching party rules and may face expulsion.

When the lawyer recently asked the LDP’s headquarters in Tokyo whether Tanaka remains a party member, the LDP issued a vague response, stating that Tanaka “had a party membership as of June last year.”

“It appears that one automatically loses party membership if he or she fails to pay membership fees for a year,” the lawyer said. “I take it that the party leaves it up to (Tanaka’s office) to decide, but I am also of the opinion that (Tanaka) has already lost her party membership.”

Tanaka, daughter of the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, resigned from the Lower House in August 2002 amid allegations that she misused the state-paid salaries of her secretaries.

In June 2002, the LDP suspended her party membership for a two-year period, accusing her of being “uncooperative” with the party’s probe into the allegations.

Yet the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office decided in late September that it would not pursue a criminal case against Tanaka, concluding that no misappropriation of funds had taken place.

Three candidates have said they will vie for the Lower House seat in the Niigata No. 5 district.

They are the LDP incumbent, Yukio Hoshino, former home affairs minister Katsuhiko Shirakawa, who is an independent but is seeking support from the Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party, and Minoru Saito of the Japanese Communist Party.

Hoshino won the seat in an October by-election, thereby filling the vacancy created by Tanaka’s resignation.

Tanaka, who retains strong popular support in her home constituency, is expected to lead the race.

LDP executives have tried to avoid the issue of Tanaka’s party membership, fearing that any action against the popular politician could provoke a voter backlash.

LDP Vice President Taku Yamasaki said Wednesday that the party is not considering any punishment for Tanaka in the event that she runs in the election.

He added that the party will not take up this issue as it has attracted so much media attention.

Tanaka helped Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi win the LDP presidency and become the national leader in 2001; she was handed the key portfolio of foreign minister in Koizumi’s first Cabinet.

She was sacked by Koizumi nine months later, having tried to shake up the Foreign Ministry amid a series of corruption scandals, and ultimately lost a prolonged battle with ministry bureaucrats.

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