Tsujimoto Kiyomi has never been one to avoid the spotlight. Bursting into the national consciousness with her infuriated attempt to pin down former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro into answering a question -- her shouted "Sori! Sori! Sori!" becoming something of a national catchphrase -- she later astounded all by getting caught with a ghost employee on her tiny staff -- a crime for which she was arrested, convicted and given a suspended sentence. Then, despite the supposedly lifelong scarring a conviction of a crime usually inflicts upon a person, she did the one thing she knew how to do: run for national office, most recently winning the Osaka #10 district seat in 2009 -- becoming one of the few of members of the Socialist Democratic Party to hold a district rather than a proportional seat.
Last night, Tsujimoto shook the party and the political realm with talk of leaving SDP. For the party, her departure would be a public relations disaster: aside from party leader Fukushima Mizuho, Tsujimoto is the party's most recognizable politician. She is frequently partnered with the local candidate on party political posters -- possibly even more often than Fukushima herself. The party also went out on a limb readmitting her, a convicted felon, back into the party's ranks. SDP Secretary Shigeno Yasumasa, with whom Tsujimoto had her meeting last night, is adamantly rejecting acceptance of her resignation.
However, Tsujimoto is most likely on her way out. Her appointment as Senior Vice Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism under the Hatoyama Cabinet capped a long fight back to political respectability. Having to surrender her post following the SDP's decision to withdraw from the ruling coalition over Fukushima's opposition to the Futenma-to-Henoko agreement was a bitter pill for Tsujimoto. Normally stoic and sarcastic, she wept profusely and bitterly as she said goodby to her staff at the Ministry.
Tsujimoto's remaining in the party after its withdrawal from the coalition seems to have been conditional. If Fukushima's dramatic dismissal from the Cabinet over the Futenma deal led to a spike in electoral support for the SDP nationwide or for its candidates in the districts, then Tsujimoto would swallow her disappointment and stick with the party. However, on July 11 the party performed disastrously: losing one of its three seats from the proportional list and in all of its districts lost -- even in the Okinawa contest against an LDP candidate who had only recently switched from supporting the 2006 Roadmap to opposing it.
So where does Tsujimoto go after leaving? The eventual natural fit for her is the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. As the first defector to join the DPJ after that party's terrible showing in the July 11 elections and a former loyal member of the Hatoyama government, Tsujimoto would certainly be rewarded with a position within the party well above what her seniority would merit.
A question right now is whether anyone within the ruling party will be insisting on receiving the credit for encouraging Tsujimoto to leave the SDP. Based on a photograph I flagged in September 2007, I can imagine one person who might have a reasonable and quite inconvenient (for the current DPJ leadership group) claim to have been working toward this result for quite some time.
Tsujimoto's defection and likely cooperation as an independent with the DPJ--utnil such time as she could actually join the party -- points out a little remarked reality of the post-July 11 Japanese political world: with 306 seats in the House of Representatives, the DPJ is closer to the two-thirds majority it would need to override actions of the House of Councillors than it is to a coalition producing a working majority in the House of Councillors. In terms of passing legislation the DPJ likes, luring 13 more legislators into cooperation with the party in the House of Representatives seems a far better bet than trying to deal with the standoffish Watanabe Yoshimi's Your Party or the self-righteous New Komeito in the House of Councillors.
* An earlier version of this post had an incorrect acronym in the title line, leading to a host of incorrect versions of the English language name of the Shakai Minshuto.