• Jiji

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Tetsuo Saito, deputy leader of Komeito, the coalition partner of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, announced on Thursday his intention to run in the next House of Representatives election from a closely watched constituency in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Saito, 68, told a news conference in the city of Hiroshima, the prefecture’s capital, that he will stand in the next poll for the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, the country’s parliament, from the prefecture’s No. 3 constituency. He is now in his ninth term as a Lower House member.

The move triggered a backlash from the LDP’s Hiroshima prefectural chapter, which has been publicly seeking a candidate to run in the constituency, after Katsuyuki Kawai left the LDP earlier this year over alleged vote-buying for his wife, Anri, for the July 2019 election for the House of Councillors. Kawai, who is standing trial over the charges, is currently a Lower House lawmaker elected from the constituency.

“People have great distrust in politics, so we must regain trust,” Saito said at the news conference, pledging to defend the seat for the ruling coalition. “I’m committed to working on it in the final culmination of my political career.” On the LDP’s moves to pick its own candidate, Saito said, “I will try hard to gain understanding.”

At Thursday’s meeting of its Central Secretariat, Komeito endorsed Saito as the party’s official candidate for the No. 3 constituency. Saito won a Lower House seat for the first time in the 1993 election, running from a constituency in the prefecture, and has since been elected to the chamber under the proportional representation system from the Chugoku regional bloc including Hiroshima.

Later on Thursday, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi conveyed the decision to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who doubles as LDP president.

Suga was “listening and nodding,” Yamaguchi told reporters, adding: “The important thing is that we, as the ruling coalition, secure the (No. 3 constituency) seat. Our party will conduct basic election cooperation with the LDP more than ever in order to maintain the coalition.”

Speaking to reporters, former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who also serves as adviser for the LDP Hiroshima chapter, said that it is not just a matter of Hiroshima. He called for attention from the LDP as a whole over the issue.

“It won’t affect the public invitation” for the candidate for the No. 3 constituency, Shin Uda, secretary-general of the LDP chapter, said, suggesting that the chapter will not hesitate to confront Saito in the electoral district.

“We’re committed to backing up who we select as our candidate to the very end,” Uda said.

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