Japan's ruling party suspends Tanaka
TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's ruling party has suspended its controversial former foreign minister for two years, an unprecedented move that could deal another blow to the party as well as the nation's prime minister.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) handed the harsh punishment -- akin to expulsion -- after senior members of the party accused Makiko Tanaka of failing to cooperate in a probe that she misused public funds.
The penalty, effective immediately, strips the popular Tanaka of the right to vote in party presidential elections, seek election as a candidate for the LDP, or attend any party committee meetings over the next two years.
Tanaka's office said on Thursday the decision had not been delivered to her and that she was unavailable for comment.
"This is very harsh. Everyone was surprised," LDP lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa, once a close confidante of the fiery Tanaka, told Reuters news agency.
The head of the LDP's ethics panel, Nobuyuki Hanashi, told reporters it was the first time the party had taken such a step.
Tanaka, Japan's first female foreign minister, will remain in parliament, where the ruling coalition has a comfortable majority, but will have to sit as an independent.
Thorn in his side
Tanaka's support played a key role in Koizumi's stunning rise to power last year, but she quickly became a thorn in his side as foreign minister in his new cabinet.
Koizumi sacked Tanaka -- daughter of late LDP kingmaker Kakuei Tanaka who served as prime minister in the 1970s -- to end her high-profile and disruptive battle with foreign ministry officials and LDP powerbroker Muneo Suzuki.
An outspoken reform advocate, she clashed with vested interests in the ministry but drew wide support from the public, who liked her frank, combative style.
But Tanaka's sacking in January backfired on Koizumi, triggering a steep slide in his sky-high support amid doubts about his commitment to reform and as Suzuki himself became mired in a scandal that led to his arrest for alleged bribe-taking.
Suzuki, who has also faced accusations that he abused his influence with the Foreign Ministry, has quit the LDP but retains his seat in parliament.
Not minced words
Tanaka has not minced words since her sacking, accusing Koizumi of undermining her efforts at reform and accusing him of joining the very anti-reformers he had vowed to fight.
Tanaka was accused of misusing public funds earmarked to pay an aide's salary.
While Tanaka admitted that the salaries were paid through a company she owns in her constituency in northern Japan, she has denied any wrongdoing.
"There is no plus in this for the LDP or for Koizumi," said UBS Warburg political analyst Shigenori Okazaki.
While critics said her heavy-handed approach made her ill-suited for the top diplomatic post, her battle to reform the scandal-tainted Foreign Ministry made her a symbol of Koizumi's broader agenda for change.
There was speculation Tanaka might bolt the LDP, either to join a new party or possibly even to link up with the opposition.
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