Scandal-tainted lawmaker Muneo Suzuki said Saturday that he will not run in the upcoming general election due to health reasons.
Despite his arrest for bribery and on other charges, Suzuki has adamantly refused to step down from the House of Representatives, which was dissolved Oct. 10 for the Nov. 9 election.
During an afternoon news conference at a hotel in Kushiro, Hokkaido, the 55-year-old politician said that on Oct. 3, he received the results of a health checkup that showed he had stomach cancer.
There had been rumors that Suzuki, who was forced to step down from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in March last year before his arrest in June, might form a new political group with 47-year-old singer Chiharu Matsuyama, a staunch supporter who also attended Saturday’s news conference.
Suzuki, who was released on bail in August after spending 437 days in detention, told his support group of his decision earlier in the day.
“I had been planning to run right up until the meeting (with the group),” Suzuki said.
However, Suzuki quoted his supporters as telling him that he should first take care of his health, adding that he will keep his local offices open and plans to resume his political activities after his health improves.
Matsuyama told the news conference that Suzuki had said he wanted to run even if it killed him, but that his supporters finally convinced him to bide his time.
Despite his arrest, Suzuki denies the allegations against him and has refused to step down as a Lower House member. The chamber was dissolved Oct. 10 for the Nov. 9 election.
“When I look at the state of things in rural areas of the nation, I am convinced that what I was doing was not wrong,” Suzuki said.
Suzuki, a former deputy chief Cabinet secretary, was elected to the House of Representatives in the previous 2000 election in the Hokkaido proportional representation constituency as an LDP candidate. He has served six terms in the Diet, but as he was no longer an LDP member, many observers had said he would face an uphill battle in the upcoming election.
Three people, including LDP incumbent Naoto Kitamura, have already indicated their intention to file their candidacies for the Hokkaido No. 7 constituency, which is Suzuki’s home turf, when official campaigning begins Oct. 28.
In order to sway voters, Suzuki planned to team up with Matsuyama and form a political group so that he could run on its proportional representation ticket. Given Matsuyama’s popularity, who hails from the same region as Suzuki, it was hoped that he could retain his Diet seat.
Some observers expressed surprise at the sudden news. Kaoru Okano, a professor emeritus at Meiji University, said that being elected is the ultimate goal of a politician and that a candidate would hide the fact that he or she is ill in order to run.
“I find it odd that (Suzuki) would make his health the reason for not running,” Okano said, adding that there may be other reasons behind the decision, which “is incomprehensible given the common sense of traditional Japanese politics.”
As well as the bribery allegations, Suzuki was in the spotlight for his highly publicized spat with fiery former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka.
Suzuki, who was criticized for exerting excessive influence over the Foreign Ministry, allegedly used his power to exclude two Japanese nongovernmental organizations from an international conference to discuss aid for Afghanistan held in Tokyo in January 2002.
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