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Corruption Allegations Force Another Japanese Lawmaker to Quit Ruling Party - 2002-03-18

For the second time in a week, a Japanese lawmaker has stepped down from the ruling party over corruption allegations. Political analysts say the resignations are not likely to improve the party's image or salvage popularity ratings for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Koichi Kato, a former secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, on Monday announced he is quitting to avoid damage to his party. The move came after his former aide was arrested earlier this month on tax evasion charges. Mr. Kato said he has submitted a letter of resignation to the party, addressed to its president, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr. Kato and the prime minister were long-time allies. His resignation is expected to cause further damage to Mr. Koizumi, whose once rock-solid approval ratings have plunged since he dismissed his popular but controversial foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, in January.

Heavyweight LDP lawmaker Muneo Suzuki also quit the party last week over a number of alleged wrong-doings, including meddling in foreign policy and unduly influencing government-awarded contracts.

Steven Reed is a political analyst at Chuo University in Tokyo. He said that it will be difficult for Mr. Koizumi and his party to recover from these scandals, despite the departure of the lawmakers involved. "Both of these people left the LDP because they were involved in scandals," he said. "It hurts the image of the LDP. It makes look like the dirty party."

Mr. Koizumi took office nearly one year ago with a pledge to reform Japan's ailing economy and its bureaucratic political system. Mr. Reed and other analysts say his declining public ratings, combined with the corruption scandals, are undermining his ability to follow through on his promises.