Japan opposition leader resigns over fund scandal (Lead)

May 11th, 2009 - 6:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Tokyo, May 11 (DPA) Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Ichiro Ozawa resigned Monday in an attempt to deflect fallout from a political funding scandal from his party ahead of the next general elections.
“I’m not going to resign from my political career,” Ozawa said at a press conference. “My strongest wish at the moment is (for DPJ) to win the general election.”

Criticism and calls for his resignation mounted after his political secretary was indicted in late March for receiving 35 million yen ($355,000) in donations from the Nishimatsu Construction Company in violation of the political funds control law.

“I have nothing to feel guilty about regarding my political funds,” Ozawa said Monday, adding that the party election to choose his successor was planned after the lower house ends deliberations on the 2009 supplementary budget.

Prior to the scandal, the 66-year-old politician was considered a favourite to lead the party to victory in the next general elections, which must be held by the autumn.

Ozawa led the party to a landslide victory in the House of Councillors election in July 2007 and secured the majority in Japan’s upper chamber.

After the fundraising scandal broke in March, Ozawa stayed on as the party president, accusing prosecutors of abusing state powers, amid mounting calls for his resignation in and outside the party.

As recent public polls showed an increasing demand for Ozawa’s resignation, he decided it was necessary to step aside to allow the party a clean slate for the lower house election later this year, news reports said.

With Ozawa’s resignation, Prime Minister Taro Aso has managed to get rid of his strongest opponent in the upcoming elections.

Approval ratings for Aso’s cabinet rose 5.9 percentage points to 29.6 percent, according to the latest public opinion polls conducted by Kyodo News Agency, while the DJP, which seemed sure of a walkover victory before the scandal broke, lost support.

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