The top leaders of Japan's largest opposition party have resigned to take responsibility for a botched political attack on a senior member of the governing party.
Seiji Maehara, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (D.P.J.), has resigned after it turned out that allegations his party had publicized about a political opponent taking payoffs were false. D.P.J Secretary-General Yukio Hatoyama also quit his post.
The resignations came after the Democrats revealed that a freelance journalist admitted giving a party lawmaker a bogus e-mail alleging that a top member of the ruling party had received money from a troubled company.
Maehara, at a meeting of party officers Friday, said he felt it was no longer tenable for him to stay in his post. Maehara says because the matter was brought up in Parliament by one of his party's lawmakers, as head of the D.P.J., he wants to resign to take responsibility.
The message was touted as having been written by Takafumi Horie, founder of the Internet conglomerate Livedoor. Horie is now in jail awaiting prosecution on fraud charges. The e-mail said Horie ordered staff to pay more than $250,000 in consulting fees to the son of the secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The L.D.P official denied the allegations.
D.P.J. President Maehara played up the charges but later conceded that the e-mail was false and that his party had been duped.
In recent weeks, as Maehara's popularity within his party plummeted, political observers predicted that he would step down before September, when elections are expected. But the sudden resignation of not only Maehara, but also of the secretary-general of the largest opposition party comes as a surprise.
Maehara, who is 43, took the reins of the party six months ago after his predecessor resigned to take responsibility for the Democrats' thrashing in national elections.
The lawmaker who received the e-mail and made it public, also announced on Friday he will resign from Parliament.
Analysts say the opposition party is hoping that the leadership shakeup will reinvigorate the D.P.J and give the left-centrist party a better chance in the next election.