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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 12:32 GMT
Tables turn on Japan's trouble shooter
Tsujimoto announcing her resignation at a press conference
Tsujimoto was different from traditional Japanese MPs
A popular Japanese politician who was famous for scathing attacks on political corruption has herself been forced to resign in scandal.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a leading member of the tiny opposition Social Democratic Party, was forced to give up her seat in parliament after revelations of financial wrongdoing in her own office.

It is the latest in a series of scandals that have further damaged an increasingly discredited political system and disheartened an already apathetic electorate.

Surveys published in local media on Tuesday showed falling support for Prime Minister's Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet and less than half the people asked admitting to support any political party.

A new image

The BBC's correspondent in Tokyo, Charles Scanlon, says that with her raucous Osaka accent and blunt accusations, Miss Tsujimoto, 41, was fast emerging as a dynamic new force in Japanese politics.

PM Junichiro Koizumi
Recent scandals have affected Koizumi's popularity

The social activist-turned-politician stood out among the ranks of ageing men in dark suits.

In recent weeks had been delighting television audiences with fierce attacks on discredited ruling party politicians.

She openly accused one influential power-broker of lying as he was forced out for helping his friends to juicy construction contracts.

But then came the charge in a weekly magazine that Miss Tsujimoto herself had been misusing public funds.

Money diverted

She initially denied the charge but later admitted that she had used most of a 10m yen ($74,990) annual salary paid by the government to her policy aide to cover office expenses, including salaries for other staff.

While doing so is not necessarily illegal, Mrs Tsujimoto could have broken the law by failing to report the move.

Our correspondent says there is much speculation that the old guard has struck back at one of its most prominent tormentors, sending a signal that they cannot be attacked with impunity.

But he says there is now little sympathy for Miss Tsujimoto, who traded on her reputation as one of a new breed of politician with an unimpeachable past.

Her own interrogations had led to the resignation of two other lawmakers in the last two weeks.

Koichi Kato and Muneo Suzuki both left the ruling party on corruption allegations.

Public disaffection

This has apparently further eroded public backing for Japan's once-revered Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

Support for Mr Koizumi's Cabinet fell 2.4 percentage points from February to 50.6%, according to a survey by the Japanese daily 'Yomiuri Shimbun.'

But Japan's recent scandals appear to have worsened the public's mistrust of politics in general.

The number of people who supported no party at all rose two percentage points from February to 50.7%, the paper said.

"The public is being driven to despair, thinking that politicians are the same whether they belong to the ruling parties or opposition," said Mineaki Yamamoto, a political commentator.

See also:

01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Cabinet blow for Koizumi
15 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi faces harsh economic reality
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