Bloomberg News

Japan Minister Resigns in Latest Setback to Kan Government

July 05, 2011

(Adds Hirano’s appointment in second paragraph.)

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister quit a week into his job after publicly scolding the governor of a tsunami-devastated region, further damaging Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s embattled administration.

Ryu Matsumoto said today that he had submitted his resignation to Kan, adding that he also quit as disaster prevention minister. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Kan appointed vice minister Tatsuo Hirano as the new minister.

“I truly apologize for my thoughtless and rough words that hurt the feelings of disaster victims,” Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto on July 3 rebuked Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai for arriving late to a meeting, then said that unless there was a consensus in the prefecture for a rebuilding plan, “we won’t do anything.” He then told the assembled press not to report the remarks. Video of the meeting was posted on the Internet.

Opposition lawmakers called on Matsumoto, 60, to quit and criticized Kan’s judgment in appointing him to the newly created post. Kan is already under pressure from both the opposition and his own Democratic Party of Japan to step down over his handling of the March earthquake and tsunami that caused the biggest nuclear disaster in 25 years.

Matsumoto’s gaffe may complicate Kan’s aim of passing three bills before carrying out a pledge to step down. Kan last week said he wants parliament to approve his second disaster recovery package, authorize the sale of deficit-covering bonds and enact a renewable energy bill before the end of August. Seven in 10 voters want him to quit by then, a poll yesterday showed.

‘Another Blow’

“This is another blow to an already weak government,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. “This is unlikely to prevent the opposition for calling for Kan’s resignation and they may not cooperate in parliament. There’s no way forward for Kan.”

Ichiro Aisawa, a senior member of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said Kan “will have to be questioned severely for his responsibility in this matter,” Kyodo News reported.

Kan today proposed a 2 trillion yen ($25 billion) stimulus plan, half the size of a package approved in May. The government won’t rely on new bond sales to pay for the plan because it will use leftover funds from last year’s budget.

Kan’s approval rating dropped to 19 percent from 24 percent last month, the Mainichi newspaper reported yesterday. About 44 percent of respondents said he should resign immediately and 27 percent said he should do so next month. The paper surveyed 1,129 voters on July 2 and 3 and didn’t provide a margin of error.

--With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa and Toru Fujioka in Tokyo. Editors: John Brinsley, Patrick Harrington

To contact the reporters on this story: Sachiko Sakamaki in Tokyo at Ssakamaki1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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