Japan's financial services minister was found dead at his home yesterday in what police believe was a possible suicide.
Tadahiro Matsushita, 73, who was also the state minister in charge of postal reform for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, was found collapsed at his house in Tokyo and confirmed dead at hospital.
Kyodo News and Jiji Press, citing police sources, reported that Matsushita was thought to have taken his own life.
"I am very shocked at the tragic news," Noda said. "I don't know what to say."
Matsushita was first elected to a lower house seat in 1993 through the Liberal Democratic Party. But his opposition to postal privatization, pushed by then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, forced him out of the LDP to join the People's New Party, now Noda's junior coalition partner.
He was appointed financial services minister and state minister supervising the postal privatization in June.
The news came on the same day it emerged that three men will challenge Noda for leadership of the governing Democratic Party of Japan, with the prime minister widely expected to survive the vote.
Under party rules, there must be an election every two years for the job, which currently comes with the post of premier, but after his only serious rival ruled himself out, Noda's grip looks secure.
As prime minister and leader of the DPJ - the biggest party in parliament - Noda has pushed through unpopular legislation on doubling sales tax.
This, alongside general disenchantment with his once-popular party, has left many lawmakers fearing for their jobs in the election expected this autumn.
"I decided to run for the party presidential election as I can't abandon the task of rebuilding the party and revitalizing Japan," Noda told reporters as all four candidates gathered in Tokyo.
He admitted that in his 12 months in office - the sixth man in five years to be premier - the already ill-disciplined DPJ has disintegrated further.
Noda's environment minister Goshi Hosono was seen as a credible challenger until he ruled himself out last week.
Noda will face challenges from three backbenchers: former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, former agriculture minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, and another former agriculture minister Michihiko Kano.