• Kyodo

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Convicted bribe-taker Muneo Suzuki, who has been released on bail, launched a new political party Thursday, looking to win a return to the House of Representatives in the Sept. 11 general election.

“I’ve set up Shinto Daichi (New Party Big Earth),” the former Liberal Democratic Party member told reporters in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. Suzuki is currently appealing a prison sentence imposed on him in connection with bribery and other charges.

Suzuki, who once served as deputy chief Cabinet secretary, is critical of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, saying he is pushing a high-handed policy under which “only the strong is good.”

Staff at the LDP’s local chapter said Suzuki’s move could pose a threat to LDP candidates in Hokkaido, including party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe and Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura.

The new party is expected to field several candidates, including Suzuki, in some single-seat constituencies and the proportional representation block in Hokkaido.

The 57-year-old Hokkaido native garnered a larger-than-expected number of votes in last year’s House of Councilors poll, placing fourth in the seven-candidate race.

Suzuki won some 480,000 votes in the election, which would be enough to win one seat in the coming Lower House race in Hokkaido.

The Upper House election was the first national poll in which he had run since losing his Diet seat in October 2003, when the Lower House was dissolved for an election.

He did not run in that election, citing health problems.

The Tokyo District Court in November sentenced Suzuki to two years in prison and fined him 11 million yen after he was convicted on four charges, including two counts of accepting bribes from two Hokkaido companies.

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