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Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010

Yanagida prospects looking grimmer

Kan defends justice chief as opposition plans censure


By KANAKO TAKAHARA and NATSUKO FUKUE
Staff writers

Pressure mounted Friday on Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida to resign over his remarks scoffing at his Diet duties, as members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan-led administration gradually distanced themselves from him and the opposition camp pledged to slap him with censure motions.

News photo
Concentration: Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida (top right), Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other lawmakers attend the Upper House Budget Committee on Friday. KYODO PHOTO

The Liberal Democratic Party earlier in the day said it will submit a nonbinding censure motion Monday against Yanagida to the opposition-controlled Upper House and a no-confidence motion to the Lower House if he has not resigned by then.

Despite the DPJ's internal criticism, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the party leader, defended Yanagida, saying to journalists Friday night: "He said he is deeply sorry and will try his best. I want him to continue to try."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku flip-flopped. After defending Yanagida Friday morning, he suggested in the afternoon that the justice chief may step down.

"What he will think at that point in time (when the censure motion is passed) depends on how the situation goes," Sengoku said. "I can't make any prediction."

In the morning, Sengoku said Yanagida may stay on at his post even after the censure motion clears the Upper House, noting that in June 2008, then LDP Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stood his ground under the same situation, when the DPJ was part of the opposition-controlled Upper House.

Because the Upper House censure motion against Fukuda had no legal force, he remained at the helm of government. He quit three months later, but not due to the censure motion.

In July 2009, the opposition-controlled Upper House passed a censure motion against then Prime Minister Taro Aso. In the following month's election, the DPJ bounced the LDP from decades of being the ruling party, and sent Aso packing.

"I was just talking about (one of) the options," Sengoku said in the afternoon.

Earlier in the day, the LDP told board members of the Upper House Budget Committee that it will oppose a committee vote on the supplementary budget unless Yanagida exits.

The party is also planning to boycott deliberations on the extra budget if the justice chief stays on.

"We will not vote for the extra budget when a minister has no ability, judgment and motivation" to serve the post, LDP Diet affairs chief Ichiro Aisawa said.

New Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue said his party, formerly part of an LDP-led ruling bloc, may side with its ex-ally and also submit motions against Yanagida.

A binding no-confidence motion will be shot down by the DPJ-controlled Lower House, but a nonbinding censure motion is expected to clear the opposition-controlled Upper House.

The DPJ is afraid that if Yanagida resigns, the LDP will go after Sengoku and other ministers as well. But the party also wants to avoid Diet deadlock that would delay passage of the extra budget, which is the administration's priority.

One of the scenarios reportedly being floated by the DPJ is for Yanagida to step down after the censure motion is passed on condition that the LDP and other opposition parties agree to vote on the extra budget.

Despite the uproar, Yanagida told reporters he will continue to serve his post.

Yanagida said, "I will sincerely face Diet deliberation and perform my duty," adding he faces the daunting task of reforming the scandal-hit prosecutorial system.

Gaffes by ministers disrupted this week's budget committee session several times.

Sengoku apologized for calling the Self-Defense Forces an "instrument of violence" — a phrase leftists who considered the SDF unconstitutional previously used.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, who admitted telling ministry officials not to invite guests who may criticize the government, created a stir when he said the LDP would have done the same if it were still the ruling party.

On Friday, Kan instructed ministers to be more careful when they answer questions in the Diet.

Yanagida made the contentious remarks in question Sunday to supporters at his constituency in Hiroshima.

"Being the justice minister is easy, as I only have to remember two phrases, either of which I can use in the Diet whenever I am stuck for an answer," he said.

The two phrases, he said, are, "I refrain from making comments on a specific issue," and "We're dealing with the matter based on laws and evidence."



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