NIIGATA — Former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka submitted a letter of resignation Wednesday to the Liberal Democratic Party, which suspended her membership last year.
With party rules stating that a resignation request must be screened before being accepted, however, LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe said the party would delay this process until after the Nov. 9 House of Representatives election, in which she is expected to run as an independent.
“The matter will be handled in accordance with party rules,” Abe told reporters. Asked what impact Tanaka’s move would have on the upcoming election, he said he did not know.
Political analysts expect Tanaka, 59, to step up her attacks on the LDP and the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who fired her as foreign minister in January 2002.
The popular Tanaka is expected in the Lower House election to seek a return to the Niigata Prefecture seat she formerly held before she left the Diet. An LDP member replaced her.
“I understand that my party membership has already been eliminated due to the failure to pay membership fees (since she was suspended from the party in June 2002), but to ensure that there is no misunderstanding or confusion, I submit my resignation from the party today,” Tanaka said in the letter addressed to Koizumi.
Earlier, the LDP had told Tanaka’s office that her party membership would remain intact as long as she paid the overdue membership fees.
Tanaka, known for her forthright views, played a key role in helping Koizumi win the LDP presidency and become prime minister in April 2001. In his first Cabinet, Koizumi made her Japan’s first female foreign minister.
Tanaka resigned as a lawmaker in August 2002 amid allegations that she had misused government funds earmarked as salary payments for her secretaries.
Having probed these allegations, prosecutors stated last month that there was no case against her.
According to the analysts, Naoto Kan, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, the nation’s largest opposition party, has made overtures to Tanaka concerning a possible election alliance.
With this in mind, the LDP leadership plans to delay a decision on Tanaka’s membership, fearing a confrontation with the popular politician could tarnish the party’s image with voters.
Tanaka’s latest move was welcomed by DPJ leaders.
“Now we have a wider variety of possibilities. I understand that (Tanaka) is now in a neutral position and no longer supports the LDP-led government,” Kan told a news conference in Okayama Prefecture.
DPJ member Ichiro Ozawa said, “It is a very good thing for as many people as possible to understand that the Koizumi administration’s policies are a sham.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda tried to play down the impact of Tanaka’s move, saying her party allegiance would not make much of a difference because she would stand out anyway, due to her outspoken personality.
“I have no particular thoughts about the news,” said Fukuda, who played a key role in sacking Tanaka as foreign minister.
Takenori Kanzaki, head of the LDP coalition partner New Komeito, said, “We do not know at this point whether (Tanaka) will return to the LDP in the future, remain an independent and keep a distance from the LDP, or is considering any other action.”
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