Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s coalition ally called on Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa to quit over a deputy’s gaffe, saying the outcry over the incident could undermine the government.
“This is not just a problem for Minister Ichikawa but for the Prime Minister, whose response could affect his political position,” Shizuka Kamei, head of the People’s New Party, said in an interview yesterday at his office in Tokyo. “He can’t keep his seat and fulfill his duties as defense minister.”
Opposition parties will submit a parliamentary censure against Ichikawa this week after a ministry official compared the planned relocation of a U.S. military base on Okinawa to rape. Ichikawa also came under fire for later saying he “doesn’t know the details” of a 1995 incident in which three American soldiers sexually assaulted a schoolgirl.
The defense minister yesterday said he will take a salary cut over the incident. Noda told a parliamentary committee he wanted Ichikawa to remain in office.
The defense minister’s departure would be the second from the Cabinet since Noda took office in September, highlighting a political landscape plagued with verbal gaffes that have led to frequent ministerial changes. A protracted fight over Ichikawa’s responsibility threatens to delay compilation of a fourth reconstruction budget and plans for next year’s outlays.
Noda’s approval rating fell to 38 percent from 42 percent a month ago, according to a Mainichi newspaper poll published yesterday. About 54 percent oppose his proposal to gradually double the 5 percent sales tax by the middle of the decade to help pay for social welfare costs, while 45 percent approve. The paper surveyed 1,012 people Dec. 3-4 and gave no margin of error.
Satoshi Tanaka, director of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, compared the planned relocation of the U.S. Futenma Marine Air Base to rape in comments to reporters on Nov. 28 and was subsequently fired. Local residents want the facility moved off the island, in part because of the 1995 attack.
“It’s absolutely not the case that Ichikawa was making light of the problems of Okinawa, but the reality is that’s how it’s perceived coming after the deputy’s comments,” Kamei said.
There’s a “high probability” the Diet will censure Ichikawa, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Ichita Yamamoto said on Fuji TV on Dec. 4. “Noda is saying that Ichikawa is the right person in the right job, but if he quits after this, I’d like to use the budget committee to rigorously examine Noda’s responsibility” for appointing him in the first place, he said.
The LDP and Komeito, another opposition party, plan to submit the censure motion on Dec. 9, Japanese newspapers reported. Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan has a majority in the lower without Kamei’s group.
“I will do my utmost to fulfill my responsibilities in this position, knowing that it will be difficult to restore trust,” Ichikawa told a parliamentary committee yesterday.
Noda’s first trade minister, Yoshio Hachiro, stepped down after nine days for calling areas near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant “towns of death.” After visiting the site he also rubbed his sleeve against a reporter saying, “Do you want some radiation?” media including the Nikkei newspaper reported.
Noda’s predecessor, Naoto Kan, was criticized for appointing Ryu Matsumoto to head reconstruction efforts from the March earthquake and tsunami after the minister was forced to quit over his public chastising of the governor of a devastated prefecture who arrived late to a meeting.
While Japan’s gross domestic product grew at a 6 percent pace in the three months ended September, a post-quake rebound is losing steam as the European debt crisis saps demand for Japanese goods and the yen near a record high erodes exporters’ profits.
That means reconstruction demand at home remains the one bright spot for the world’s third-largest economy. Noda instructed his ministers Dec. 1 to compile a fourth extra budget for rebuilding, which Finance Minister Jun Azumi says will be at least 2 trillion yen ($26 billion).
--With assistance from Aki Ito in Tokyo. Editors: John Brinsley, Peter Hirschberg
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