Monday’s suicide of Toshikatsu Matsuoka surprised opposition lawmakers who had seen a golden opportunity to grill the scandal-tainted farm minister, but they were quick to turn the blame on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Opposition parties had been poised to step up their questioning of Matsuoka after he failed to provide a clear-cut account of his office expenses. Matsuoka was scheduled to attend a committee session on the matter in the afternoon.
“I’m very surprised,” said Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan. He quickly stressed that Matsuoka’s death should not stop opposition parties from pursuing the scandal.
Matsuoka’s “agony may have grown even larger because Abe continued to defend him,” Hatoyama said, suggesting the prime minister should have already fired Matsuoka as farm minister.
Mizuho Fukushima of the Social Democratic Party of Japan was even harsher. She charged that Abe pressured Matsuoka to stay silent on the scandal and not to resign because another minister’s resignation would have dealt a heavy blow to his Cabinet.
In December, administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata resigned over a similar political fund scandal centered on inflated, or even fictitious, office expenditures. Japanese Communist Party chief Tadayoshi Ichida said suicide was not the right answer for scandal-tainted Matsuoka, adding he should have come clean with the public.
Meanwhile, Matsuoka’s fellow lawmakers in the ruling coalition were in shock.
“I was surprised by the sudden news. He may have been exhausted,” House of Councilors Secretary General Toranosuke Katayama said. “He must have thought it was over before the action, but it is truly saddening.”
“He was devoted to his work, having gone on business trips frequently,” transport minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, from New Komeito, said. “I’m extremely shocked.”
Matsuoka’s death also shocked supporters in his home district in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture.
“I’m just simply surprised,” Aso Mayor Yoshioki Sato said. “Phone calls are being made from far and wide.”
Matsuoka was back in Kumamoto over the weekend, according to his Aso office.
“I’m very much surprised,” Kumamoto Gov. Yoshiko Shiotani said. “He supported our prefecture in various ways and it is quite regrettable that he died in such a manner.”
Matsuoka’s 86-year-old mother Haruko broke down crying at her house, where she lives alone. “Did he commit suicide? He was usually energetic and returned home some two weeks ago,” she said.
Suicides involving House of Representatives members:
* Yoji Nagaoka, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, hanged himself in his home in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, in August 2005. He had suffered public criticism for indecisiveness over postal privatization.
* Shokei Arai, also an LDP member, killed himself in a hotel in Tokyo in February 1998. He had been suspected in a payoff scandal involving Nikko Securities Co.
* Yukio Matsumoto, a member of the Socialist Party, hanged himself in his house in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, in January 1983. It was believed that he had been suffering health problems.
* Ichiro Nakagawa, former agriculture minister, hanged himself in a Sapporo hotel in January 1983. He was believed to have been suffering excessive strain due to his defeat in the previous year’s LDP presidential election.