July 6 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized for the actions of a Cabinet minister who quit yesterday, and reiterated his intention to achieve his legislative goals before fulfilling a pledge to step down.
Speaking today in parliament, Kan said he was “very sorry” for comments by Ryu Matsumoto who quit a week into his job as reconstruction minister after offending the governor of a region devastated by the March tsunami.
“I apologize to victims of the disaster for former minister Matsumoto’s unpleasant remarks,” Kan said. “I’m the one who appointed him, so I bear responsibility for that.”
While opposition lawmakers press Kan to quit, he gave no indication that he would speed up his plan to step down amid polls showing 70 percent want him to do so by the end of August. Kan reiterated his intention to pass three pieces of legislation aimed at rebuilding from the March earthquake and tsunami that caused the worst nuclear accident in a quarter-century.
“I’ll work with all my might on what must be done as long as I’m in office,” he said. “I haven’t used the word ‘‘resign’’ about myself. I’ve said I’ll pass my responsibilities on to a younger generation once certain progress is made.”
Matsumoto on July 3 rebuked Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai for arriving late to a meeting, then told him that without a consensus in the prefecture for rebuilding from the disaster, “we won’t do anything.” Matsumoto told the assembled press not to report the exchange, video of which was posted on the Internet.
The controversy may hurt Kan’s chances of carrying out his agenda. The government yesterday unveiled a 2 trillion yen ($25 billion) recovery stimulus plan, half the size of an initial package approved in May. Kan wants the Diet to approve the package, as well as authorize the sale of 44.3 trillion yen in government bonds needed to fund this year’s record budget, and enact a renewal energy bill.
“The prime minister’s desire to stay on as long as possible is delaying reconstruction efforts,” Nobuteru Ishihara, the No. 2 official in the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said during today’s parliamentary session. “The Kan cabinet has lost its coherence.”
Kan’s approval rating dropped to 19 percent from 24 percent last month, the Mainichi newspaper reported on July 4. 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.
--Editors: John Brinsley, Patrick Harrington
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