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Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009

Opposition parties smell blood

Not satisfied with finance minister's resignation, DPJ-led camp turns its fire on Aso

Staff writer

The opposition parties, not satisfied with Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa's abrupt resignation Tuesday and scenting the possibility of a bigger scalp, demanded Wednesday that Prime Minister Taro Aso apologize for the political turmoil.

The Democratic Party of Japan, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) announced they would not resume deliberations of the budget and related bills in the Diet until Aso apologizes.

"Aso is responsible for triggering deep public distrust and insecurity in politics and causing a delay in Diet proceedings," said DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka. "Aso must first apologize for and explain (the resignation) to the public at a Diet" committee.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc agreed to set a Diet hearing Thursday morning for Aso to explain the situation that led to Nakagawa's resignation.

Nakagawa, a known heavy drinker, gave an unusual performance at a news conference held in Rome, where he slurred his words, looked half asleep and had trouble answering reporters' questions, leading to speculation that he may have been drunk.

Nakagawa denied the allegations but admitted he had a sip of wine, even though he was on a heavy dose of medication.

"The issue over (former) Finance Minister Nakagawa is not finished — it is not about just one individual's responsibility," said Yamaoka.

"The news conference after the G7 international conference was held amid what is said to be a once in a century financial crisis that was watched closely by the world and the Japanese public . . . and Nakagawa brought shame on Japan in front of the world," he said.

Nakagawa's performance triggered harsh criticism and calls for him to quit came not only from the opposition parties but also from within the ruling bloc. The outcry is also expected to encourage moves by some LDP lawmakers to oust Aso, who is suffering plummeting support rates.

"Right now, the LDP should not be stirring up trouble within its own party," said New Komeito Secretary General Kazuo Kitagawa. "What the people are hoping for is the immediate implementation of economic policies, and in that sense, it is most important for the ruling coalition to stick firmly together to pass the budget and related bills as soon as possible."

The government and the ruling bloc are desperate to secure the passage of the fiscal 2009 budget and related bills through the Lower House as soon as possible. Wasting no time, the coalition held a budget committee meeting Wednesday afternoon without the attendance of the opposition camp.

"We have no intention of pointlessly drawing out deliberations," said DPJ lawmaker Yukio Edano, who is a member of the budget committee. But "it is unheard of that a finance minister had to be changed in the middle of deliberations on the budget, and we first want the prime minister's apology and explanation."

The opposition parties said they would decide what to do about future Diet proceedings after hearing Aso's explanation Thursday morning.

At the budget committee, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura apologized to the participants on behalf of the prime minister, who was on a one-day business trip to Sakhalin Island and could not attend.

"I am deeply sorry that we had to change the finance minister at a time when we are in the middle of deliberating the related bills for the fiscal 2008 second supplementary budget and the fiscal 2009 budget," Kawamura said.

Immediately after Nakagawa's resignation Tuesday evening, Aso appointed economic and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano to serve concurrently as the finance minister and financial service minister, the two posts formerly held by Nakagawa.

"Until now, I have worked together with (former) Finance Minister Nakagawa on economic and fiscal policies, and I will continue as a member of Prime Minister Aso's Cabinet and devote myself to the economic recovery of Japan," Yosano said at the budget committee.

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The Japan Times

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