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Japan's slurring Finance Minister steps down

Posted by: Ian Rowley on February 16, 2009

Shoichi Nakagawa has enjoyed his last drink as Finance Minister. In Rome at the weekend, a slurring, mumbling Nakagawa appeared to be drunk when addressing reporters. An ally of Prime Minister Taro Aso, Nakagawa misunderstood questions, his speech was unclear, and at one point he even appeared to almost drift off to sleep.

While Nakagawa defended his behavior, blaming it on strong medicine he was taking for a bad cold, he has been heavily criticized in Japan. Opposition politicians said he had shamed the country on the international stage. Members of his own party also weighed in: former Prime Minister Yoshio Mori (himself no stranger to embarrassing gaffes) said he had warned Nakagawa about drinking in the past. According to breaking reports, the 55-year-old has said he will resign.

Nakagawa’s decision to step down inevitably heaps more pressure on Prime Minister Aso. Already suffering poor ratings (one TV poll recently found he had 9.7% support among the public) critics have mocked Aso, a grandson of a former Prime Minister, for mispronouncing words when reading (sound familiar?) and a tendency to make unfortunate comments seemingly without thinking. More important, the Cabinet Office yesterday announced the biggest quarterly contraction in GDP since 1974. And on Feb. 11, another former influential Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi put the boot in, mocking Aso for saying he had not been supported privatization of Japan’s post office—something Koizumi had pinned his reelection on a few years ago. Now, with Nakagawa departing, Aso’s position is even weaker than ever.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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