Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Japan’s justice minister resigns over gaffe

AFP, TOKYO

Japanese Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida resigned yesterday after his quip that his job was easy sparked howls of outrage and threats of parliamentary stalling tactics from the conservative opposition.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan — whose media poll ratings have dived into the mid 20 percent range — accepted the resignation of Yanagida, who had been on the job for just two months.

Yanagida, 56, sparked the storm when he joked last week that “being justice minister is easy as I only have to remember two phrases, either of which I can use in parliament whenever I’m stuck for an answer.”

He told local supporters in Hiroshima prefecture that the two phrases were: “I refrain from commenting on individual cases,” and “I am acting appropriately based on the law and evidence.”

The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — which was ousted last year after a half-century reign — lashed out at the remarks, saying they were insulting to the Diet legislature.

Lawmakers had planned a non-binding, but embarrassing censure motion and, more worryingly for the government, had planned to block new economic stimulus measures in the upper house, reports said.

A vote against the bill to help fund a US$60 billion stimulus in the upper chamber would delay its passage by at least 30 days, after which the lower house automatically overrides the upper house on budget bills.

Yanagida suggested at a press conference that he didn’t have much of a choice other than to resign after Kan had told him that “we have to definitely pass the supplementary budget as soon as possible.”

Yanagida became the first minister to step down since Kan reshuffled his Cabinet in mid-September, shortly after his re-election as president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Kan’s right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, said he would perform the duties of justice minister for the time being.

The incident is likely to fuel accusations of incompetence against the young DPJ government, which is already fending off criticism that it mishandled diplomatic rows with China and Russia.

The latest opinion poll published yesterday by the Mainichi Shimbun said public support for Kan’s Cabinet had plunged to a new low of 26 percent, down a steep 23 points from last month.

Asked about Yanagida’s comments, 71 percent of voters said he should resign.

Media reports said the LDP was planning to go after more scalps.

TV Asahi reported that the LDP planned censure motions against Sengoku and Japanese Transport Minister Sumio Mabuchi over the damaging leak of a coastguard video this month amid a bitter territorial row with China.

A coastguard official posted on YouTube previously secret footage showing a a collision between two Japanese coastguard vessels and a Chinese trawler, heightening tensions with Beijing.

The government faces a further headache on Sunday when the southern prefecture of Okinawa is likely to elect a governor who opposes an agreement between -Tokyo and Washington to build a new US airbase there.

“The trouble isn’t over” for the DPJ, Waseda University political science professor Tetsuro Kato said.

“The DPJ’s capability of handling very basic policy will be tested,” Kato said, adding the Kan government was already “unstable.”

Kato said the opposition tactics of using ministers’ gaffes as tools to shake up the government, and the wild swings in support ratings, show that “Japan’s democracy is still in its early stage.”

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