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An Upper House member who quit the Liberal Democratic Party last week to help found a new party to challenge Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration switched to another new party Wednesday in a campaign ploy for the Sept. 11 Lower House election.

Kensei Hasegawa, who just a week ago took part in the founding of Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) with three other LDP rebels and a defector from the Democratic Party of Japan, has joined New Party Nippon, said Nagano Gov. Yasuo Tanaka, the head of the party.

Adding Hasegawa allows New Party Nippon, founded Sunday, to field the same candidates in both single-seat constituencies and proportional-representation blocs for the election. New Party Nippon had been one parliamentarian short of qualifying as a legally registered party.

But the move was broadly criticized by leaders of the DPJ-led opposition camp, who said the switch of affiliation shows the “new parties” represent nothing more than the power struggle in the conservative ranks, with the Koizumi-led LDP at its center.

New Party Nippon was launched Sunday by Tanaka, who is not running in the Sept. 11 poll, and four former LDP lawmakers who voted against Koizumi’s Japan Post privatization bills, including Koki Kobayashi, who is bidding for re-election from his Tokyo No. 10 constituency.

Under the Public Offices Election law, a party must have at least five parliamentarians, including members of the dissolved House of Representatives, to field the same candidates for proportional-representation blocks and single-seat constituencies.

“In an election, it is important to belong (to a registered party). Since New Party Nippon was having trouble finding a fifth parliamentarian as its member, I determined that it would be better for me to join so that it can start as a (legally registered party),” Hasegawa said in explaining the switch.

Hasegawa said the change was “a formality” and added he would “continue to work for Kokumin Shinto.” He went on to say he would try to contribute by being a “link” between the two parties.

Kokumin Shinto, launched Aug. 17, is headed by former House of Representatives Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki and counts former LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei, one of the foremost critics of Koizumi’s postal reform drive, as one of its members.

Even with Hasegawa’s departure, Kokumin Shinto will be able to field candidates for both proportional-representation and single-seat constituencies because former LDP Lower House member Kyoichi Tsushima joined Tuesday.

Both parties were established after Koizumi dissolved the Lower House Aug. 8 for a snap election after the Upper House rejected his postal privatization bills.

Hasegawa’s move was hit by opposition leaders.

“This is a result of power struggles in the LDP. It’s a farce. They are simply turning parliamentarians around within the LDP circles,” DPJ chief Katsuya Okada said in Oita.

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