Japan’s transport minister resigned yesterday after a string of gaffes, dealing a major blow to Prime Minister Taro Aso who took office barely a week ago.
The resignation of Nariaki Nakayama marked a rocky start for Aso, who took office on Wednesday with the lowest public support of any newly appointed prime minister in eight years.
The latest newspaper polls showed his approval rating at just below 50 percent.
“I handed my resignation to the prime minister and he accepted,” Nakayama told a news conference.
Nakayama said if he had stayed on, the opposition would have wasted time in parliament questioning him about his recent mistakes in an effort to derail economic discussions. Aso is to give a major policy speech there today.
The resignation follows remarks by Nakayama on Saturday when he called Japan’s largest teachers’ union “a cancer,” the Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun said. He also said the Japan Teachers Union should be abolished.
The 320,000-strong union has demanded an apology and a retraction of his comments.
“We are totally flabbergasted by his comments. We questioned his judgment,” union secretary-general, Yasunaga Okamoto said.
Nakayama’s resignation drew criticism even from within Aso’s Cabinet.
“It will give an impression that the new government is already in disarray,” Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters.
Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said it was not “a plus” for the fledgling administration.
Japan’s largest opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), said Aso was to blame for the scandal because he appointed Nakayama as a minister.
“It is a matter of course that he resigned. Aso also has grave responsibility” for bringing Nakayama into the Cabinet, Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the DPJ, told reporters in Shiga.
His comments were broadcast on TV news channels.
Aside from lashing at the union, Nakayama said last week that Japan is “ethnically homogenous,” drawing criticism from the Ainu, Aborigines in northern Japan.
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