Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan's main opposition party Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), has announced he will step down in the wake of a fundraising scandal that has reduced his popularity and that of his party battling to end the unpopular Liberal Democratic Party's grip on power.
Prosecutors in Tokyo have alleged that Ozawa's political fundraising organisation received 21 million yen ($216,000) in illegal donations from a mid-size construction company, Nishimatsu Construction between 2003-2007. Ozawa replied that he believes the charges are politically motivated.
Ozawa's move comes ahead of a general election that must be called before October this year. The Democratic Party of Japan has a real chance of toppling the government of Taro Aso and the LDP and Ozawa stressed that his move was to limit damage to his party before the poll.
Ozawa entered politics in the late 1960s and was elected to the Diet in 1969, becoming a member of the powerful Kakuei Tanaka faction.
Ozawa has twice held key offices in previous LDP governments, first in 1985 as Home Affairs Minister under Yasuhiro Nakasone and in 1989 as LDP Secretary General.
During the fall-out from the Sagawa Kyubin/Shin Kanemaru corruption scandal, Ozawa jumped ship from the LDP, where he had made many enemies during his heady rise, to form the Japan Renewal Party in 1992 along with long-time ally Tsutomu Hata.
This alliance lead to the end of LDP rule for the first time in 38 years with the short-lived administration of Morihiro Hosokawa in 1993, while Ozawa and Hata pulled the strings in the background in true kuromaki style.
Ozawa's became the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) from 2003, where he has joined forces once more with Tsutomu Hata. Ozawa was forced to step down briefly as leader in 2004, when he was caught up (along with a number of Japan's political elite) in the ongoing Pension Scandal.
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