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When Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata spoke during a Feb. 16 Lower House Budget Committee session, it appeared that he possessed a strong political weapon for blowing up the Liberal Democratic Party and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet.

He read what he claimed was an e-mail sent by Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie in August. Mr. Nagata alleged that Mr. Horie ordered that 30 million yen be transferred to the second son of LDP secretary general Tsutomu Takebe. But Mr. Nagata’s allegations eventually backfired on him and the DPJ, as the party was forced to admit that the e-mail was a fake.

The snafu testifies to the lack of awareness on the part of Mr. Nagata and the DPJ leadership, including party leader Seiji Maehara, of the fact that a question-and-answer session in the Diet is a real battlefield — where lawmakers’ and political parties’ political lives are at stake — and that a questioner must use prudence and make foolproof preparations, especially when his or her statement has attacked particular people. The sloppy handling of the matter by Mr. Nagata and the party leaders has undermined the credibility of the DPJ as a political party.

“Impudent” may be an appropriate word to describe the behavior of Mr. Nagata and DPJ leaders. Apart from Mr. Nagata’s allegations, DPJ secretary general Yukio Hatoyama repeated, without producing evidence, that there was a strong possibility that an LDP lawmaker had a role in an investment union set up by Livedoor.

Four scandalous problems — the U.S. beef-import issue, bid-rigging by Defense Facilities Agency officials, the LDP’s support for Mr. Horie in the Sept. 11 general elections and his arrest later, and the falsification of earthquake-resistance data for building designs by structural designer Mr. Hidetsugu Aneha — had provided the No. 1 opposition party with an opportunity to corner the government and delve into issues of great concern to the public.

The DPJ’s dereliction of its responsibility in this case has deprived the Diet of precious time for deliberating these issues. As an act of public apology, Mr. Yoshihiko Noda, who gave Mr. Nagata the go-ahead to make the allegations, resigned as the party’s Diet affairs chief and Mr. Nagata was suspended from party membership for six months. Mr. Maehara will stay.

These measures fail to convince people that the DPJ leaders have given serious thought to the consequences of the blooper. Not surprisingly, Mr. Takebe, who thinks that his reputation was tarnished by Mr. Nagata’s statement, as well as other officials of the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito, is angry.

What Mr. Nagata said at a news conference Tuesday shows how careless he was in preparing his Diet statement. A freelancer had brought him an e-mail printout, but this person was only a middleman. The e-mail addresses of the sender and receiver had been blacked out. The middleman told Mr. Nagata that the sender’s address was among those used by Mr. Horie and that the receiver’s address was that of a person who had passed the e-mail printout to the middleman.

Mr. Nagata did not ask the middleman to identify the e-mail addresses. And because the middleman said that disclosure of the identity of the original source might put that person at risk of physical harm, Mr. Nagata did not press the middleman on that, either.

It is now known that the e-mail was sent and received by the middleman himself. The middleman gave Mr. Nagata information for identifying the bank account number to which the money transfer was allegedly made, but Mr. Nagata could not verify the information. Mr. Nagata believed that the e-mail was genuine because he trusted the middleman, with whom the lawmaker had been “on friendly terms” since last year.

This incident has shed light on the slipshod nature of the DPJ’s mechanism for handling an important item in Diet deliberations. Mr. Nagata had consulted with Mr. Noda around Feb. 8 and with Mr. Maehara on Feb. 11 about taking up the e-mail issue in Diet questioning. Yet the party as an organization did not make any efforts to ensure that Mr. Nagata’s allegations were flawless by examining his explanations and the material he possessed. Thus Mr. Maehara bore as heavy a responsibility as Mr. Nagata because he continued to say the e-mail’s authenticity was highly likely.

The lesson for the DPJ from the e-mail blunder is to avoid attention-drawing stunts in the hope of getting a flashy result. The party must consider that its political weakness may stem from its failure to present an overall clear position to counter Mr. Koizumi’s policy lines. The DPJ’s blunder should not damp Diet deliberations on pressing issues that affect people’s lives.

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