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Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010
Sengoku backtracks on exit hint
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, considered the most influential politician in Prime Minister Naoto Kan's administration, created a stir Friday when he hinted he may step down.
The remark came at a sensitive time as calls have been rising in the Democratic Party of Japan for Kan to reshuffle the Cabinet. They say he should start fresh by replacing Sengoku and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, who were targeted with nonbinding censure motions last week by the opposition camp.
"I'm not told anything (by Kan). I may be asked to focus on the justice ministerial post," said Sengoku, who has been doubling as justice minister.
He was answering questions at a news conference about when a new justice minister might be appointed.
Sengoku, a lawyer before he turned to politics, assumed the additional Cabinet post after Minoru Yanagida resigned from the post last week over a remark making light of his Diet duties. Sengoku's workload has shot up since then.
"I'm extremely busy," Sengoku said.
In a later news conference, however, he said his remark was "misunderstood."
"I have no intention (of resigning) at present," Sengoku said. "I just made a general comment that it is solely up to the prime minister to appoint a minister. There is nothing more or less to it."
Sengoku remained vague when asked about prospects for a new ruling coalition framework, which the DPJ badly needs if it is going to make through a rough Diet session that gets under way next month.
"At present, a clear outline has yet to be seen," he said.
Speculation is growing that Kan will need to reach out to opposition parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and form a grand coalition to deal with the divided Diet.
A more practical approach might be to seek cooperation from the Social Democratic Party, the DPJ's former coalition partner until its leader, Mizuho Fukushima, split from the ruling bloc over the government's policy on the relocation of the Futenma military base in Okinawa. The SDP is calling for driving the Futenma base out of the country altogether.
DPJ executives coordinated with the SDP when the recent extra budget was submitted to the Diet and possibly will do so again for the main 2011 budget, Sengoku said.