Japan's Defense Minister Pressured to Resign, PM Noda Rejects

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tokyo- (PanOrient News) Pressure is mounting from both the ruling and opposition parties for the resignation of Japan's Defense Minster Yasuo Ichikawa "for his inadequate supervision and incompetence and ill-chosen comments" over security and military issues. But Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Monday he wants Ichikawa to stay on as defense minister.

''I want him to shape up more than ever and perform his duty,'' Noda was quoted by Kyodo at a Diet (Japanese Parliament) panel session.

The embattled minister Ichikawa, meanwhile, said during the same House of Representatives Budget Committee, ''I want to do my very best to fulfill my duty although regaining trust is a difficult task.''

The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and its ally New Komeito said on Sunday they will jointly submit a censure motion on Friday Dec. 9 against Ichikawa, a motion likely to pass the opposition-controlled upper house (of Councilors.) Moreover, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will have to take responsibility for appointing Ichikawa LDP upper house member Ichita Yamamoto has said. The censure motion would make it more difficult for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to find support for his coming year budget and his plans to change the welfare system and increase the sales tax.

Censure resolutions are legally nonbinding but have great political impact if they are passed. Under the current Constitution five ministers, including two prime ministers, had censure motions issued against them in the upper house and all eventually resigned.

Criticism of Ichikawa by top politicians has been widespread. He” is a person who says exactly what he thinks”, said his aides in response to his repeated blunders.

Ichikawa has also been pressed to take responsibility for a gaffe made by Satoshi Tanaka, then director-general of the ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau before he was dismissed on Tuesday after using a euphemism that implied a rape to plans for the relocation of an air base in an off the record meeting with journalists on Monday. He made the remark in relation to the government's submission of an environmental assessment report concerning the relocation plans.

Defense Minister Ichikawa made the situation worse by claiming that he did not know details about the 1995 of a 12-year-old Okinawa schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen stationed in the prefecture, an incident that triggered opposition to the heavy concentration of U.S. military forces in Okinawa and led to a Japan-U.S. agreement on the relocation of the Futenma air base.

Ichikawa later met with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and offered an apology Friday for the gaffe of the sacked Tanaka, and for his own faux pas on the 1995 rape. Despite this, protestors gathered in front of his Okinawa office demanding Ishikawa's resignation.

The first gaffe was when Ichikawa said just after taking office in September that he was "an amateur" in security affairs.

He is also being criticized for his absence from an Imperial banquet for Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and his wife, Queen Jetsun Pema, who visited Japan last month. Instead he went to a local political event and told the audience that he thought their event was more important than the Imperial banquet. The issue was reported extensively by the Japanese media which forced Ishikawa to visit the Bhutan Embassy in Tokyo and offered his apology.

The LDP and New Komeito are threatening to boycott discussions at the opposition-controlled Upper House for the rest of the current session, which is currently scheduled to end Friday, and in next year's ordinary parliamentary session, to be convened in January, if Noda decides to allow Ichikawa to stay on as defense minister even after the censure motion is adopted.

The prime minister, whose position is not solid, will have less room to maneuver if the Defense Minister chose to stand his ground, observers said. Ichikawa is backed by top DPJ officials including Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, one of Noda's powerful backers within the party.
All eyes are on the prime minister to see how he handles the matter.

PanOrient News

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