Justice minister resigns over gaffe

November 22, 2010 12:00 am

, TOKYO, Nov 22 – Japan\’s justice minister on Monday resigned after his quip that his job was easy sparked howls of outrage and threats of parliamentary stalling tactics from the conservative opposition.

Centre-left Prime Minister Naoto Kan — whose media poll ratings have dived into the mid 20-percent range — accepted the resignation of the minister, Minoru Yanagida, who had been on the job for just two months.

Yanagida, 56, sparked the storm when a week earlier he joked that "being justice minister is easy as I only have to remember two phrases, either of which I can use in parliament whenever I\’m stuck for an answer".

He then told his local supporters in Hiroshima prefecture what those two phrases were: "I refrain from commenting on individual cases" and "I am acting appropriately based on the law and evidence."

The opposition conservative Liberal Democratic Party — which was ousted last year after a half-century reign — angrily lashed out at the remarks, saying they were insulting to the Diet legislature.

Its lawmakers had planned a non-binding but embarrassing censure motion Monday and, more worryingly for the government, had planned to block new economic stimulus measures in the upper house, reports said.

On Monday morning Yanagida offered his resignation to Kan, who accepted.

Yanagida suggested at a press conference that he didn\’t have much of a choice, after Kan had told him that "we have to definitely pass the supplementary budget as soon as possible".

"I knew that my careless remarks were an obstacle… so I expressed my willingness to resign after listening to the prime minister," Yanagida told a news conference after the meeting.

Speaking about his gaffe, he said: "Frankly, I was off-guard. It is my fault that I made a careless, joking remark like that, and I believe I should offer my heartfelt apology."

Yanagida became the first minister to step down since Kan reshuffled his cabinet in mid-September, shortly after his re-election as president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

Kan\’s right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, said he would perform the duties of justice minister for the time being.

The incident is likely to fuel accusations of incompetence against the young DPJ government, which is already fending off criticism that it mishandled recent diplomatic rows with China and Russia.

The latest poll issued Monday by the Mainichi Shimbun daily said public support for Kan\’s cabinet had plunged to a new low of 26 percent, down a steep 23 points from the previous survey in October.

The cabinet\’s disapproval rating surged to 57 percent from 34 percent, according to the survey, which polled 1,591 households over the weekend.

Asked about Yanagida\’s comments, 71 percent of voters said he should resign.


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