Tsushima named to head former Hashimoto faction

by Tetsushi Kajimoto

The Liberal Democratic Party faction once led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto chose ex-health minister Yuji Tsushima on Friday as its new chief, ending a leadership vacuum that existed since July 2004 in the wake of a political donation scandal.

The Lower House member is currently the group’s secretary general. With the appointment, the LDP’s second-largest faction will now be known as the Tsushima faction. The group tapped former Economic Planning Agency chief Hajime Funada, 51, to succeed Tsushima.

Tsushima, 75, will face the difficult task of putting the group, which was once the LDP’s largest and most unified, back together despite being tainted by a 100 million yen political funds scandal involving Hashimoto and the Japan Dental Association.

Hashimoto resigned from the faction leadership and left the group July 30, 2004, to take responsibility for the scandal, in which the group received 100 million yen from the major dental lobby in July 2001 but failed to report it in accordance with the Political Funds Control Law.

Following Hashimoto’s resignation the faction has been paralyzed by the scandal and the ongoing trial of former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka, who was a senior faction member when the affair occurred. The group has yet to fully resume operations, with Upper House members voluntarily refraining from group activities.

The faction has also been on the verge of a split between its Lower and Upper House members since September 2003, when the Upper House members led by Mikio Aoki, chairman of the LDP Upper House caucus, helped Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi win re-election to the party presidency, while Lower House members supported former transport minister and faction member Takao Fujii.

Hashimoto didn’t run in the Sept. 11 general election and has effectively left politics; Fujii failed in his election campaign and was urged to leave the party for voting against Koizumi’s postal privatization bills. Former faction leader Tamisuke Watanuki, meanwhile, has left the party to form Kokumin Shinto (the People’s New Party) in protest against Koizumi’s postal privatization.