• Kyodo

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Yamaguchi Deputy Gov. Kazuhiko Komatsu was referred to prosecutors Thursday on suspicion of illegally recruiting supporters for Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi over the October general election, police said.

Komatsu allegedly solicited multiple prefectural government officials to join the political support group of Hayashi, who became the foreign minister after winning the House of Representatives election.

The country’s election law prohibits civil servants from engaging in election campaigns, including such solicitation. The local police also similarly referred two senior officials of the Yamaguchi Municipal Government for alleged violation of the law.

Hayashi, asked about the case, said, “I want to meet the public mandate and fulfill my responsibilities by working sincerely and hard,” denying the possibility of stepping down.

The 65-year-old vice governor had admitted to handing out up to several hundred support-group membership application forms to five of his subordinates, according to the police.

This took place around late April, investigative sources said, while the two others are suspected of trying to persuade some 20 city officials to join the group through four subordinates around October.

Until the Oct. 31 election, Hayashi was a House of Councilors lawmaker for 26 years representing an area of the prefecture where his political rival and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has his constituency.

The prefecture has long been a conservative stronghold. With the hope of becoming a future prime minister, Hayashi switched his constituency to the Yamaguchi No.3 district before the election and won his first seat in the more powerful Lower House.

Months before the election, he had been engaged in fierce competition against former Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura to gain the official endorsement of their ruling Liberal Democratic Party to run in the No. 3 constituency.

Kawamura eventually decided not to run in the election after losing the endorsement to Hayashi.

The tough competition between Hayashi and Kawamura is believed to be behind the local officials’ alleged involvement over the election.

The police said it seems that such solicitation had been done “conventionally” within the prefectural government in each election.

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