Japan’s justice minister quit yesterday because of ill health, a Cabinet official said, after calls for his resignation over past ties to an organized crime syndicate, dealing another blow to unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Keishu Tanaka, 74, only became justice minister in a Cabinet reshuffle on Oct. 1 and his resignation is the second by a minister since Noda took office in September last year.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a press conference that Tanaka stepped down for health reasons.
The resignation came a day after Tanaka left a Tokyo hospital where he had checked in on Friday with chest pains, an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
The health problems followed days of calls for his resignation after a magazine report linked him to the yakuza organized crime syndicates.
Tanaka said he acted as a matchmaker at a mobster’s wedding and attended a party thrown by the head of a crime group about 30 years ago, explaining that he was not aware of the groom’s mob connections or the nature of the event at the time.
Tanaka has also admitted shortly after his appointment that his party branch accepted ￥420,000 (US$5,300) in donations from a company run by a foreigner between 2006 and 2009. Accepting funds from foreign nationals is illegal if done so knowingly.
Tanaka’s office said he had returned all of the money, media reports said.
“The resignation is likely to further weaken Noda’s support within his party. Obviously, it will become more difficult for him to exert leadership, but it is uncertain whether this could be a trigger for an early election ... Given falling public support for the government, there is no benefit in him dissolving parliament and calling a snap election at the moment,” said Mikitaka Masuyama, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
Noda promised in August to hold an election “soon” as part of negotiations with the opposition on a plan to raise the sales tax.
The scandal is the latest in a string of setbacks for Noda, the Democratic Party of Japan’s third prime minister in as many years, who is expected to lose the next election.
In September last year, days after Noda formed his government, then-Japanese trade minister Yoshio Hachiro quit over comments about radiation following a visit to the Fukushima region, scene of a nuclear power plant accident following an earthquake and tsunami in March that year.
Government policymaking has stalled since the parliamentary session ended last month, with the opposition blocking legislation in a split parliament to try and force an early election.
Noda’s ruling party has decided to convene an extra session of parliament from Oct. 29 to try to pass a bill needed to cover nearly half the government’s budget spending, setting the stage for another showdown with the opposition.