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Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
Ichikawa must straighten up but can stay: Noda
Okinawa lawmaker in ruling bloc wants defense chief sacked
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Monday he won't fire Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa despite growing pressure from both the opposition and the ruling coalition to take responsibility for embarrassing comments by a deputy and his own gaffes.
"I am terribly sorry that the feelings of the Okinawans have been hurt, but I would like Minister Ichikawa to straighten up and perform his duties," Noda said during a session of the Lower House Budget Committee.
The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito are set to submit a censure motion in the opposition-controlled Upper House on Friday if Ichikawa doesn't step down or Noda doesn't sack him. The motion, which is likely to pass the chamber, would deliver a damaging punch to the Noda administration, which is facing numerous challenges ranging from rebuilding the disaster-hit Tohoku region to planning a consumption tax hike.
Even lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan-Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) bloc have begun openly calling for Ichikawa to resign.
During the budget committee hearing, Kokumin Shinto lawmaker Mikio Shimoji, a native of Okinawa, faced Noda directly and urged him to fire Ichikawa.
"You should dismiss Defense Minister Ichikawa. It is up to you to decide," Shimoji said. "I think that you will be able to rebuild trust with Okinawa if you take firm measures — that is why I am calling for a dismissal and not a resignation."
But Ichikawa, whose real forte is agricultural issues, also stated his intention to stay on as defense minister.
"I believe that we need to make a considerable amount of effort to eradicate the pain of the Okinawan people. I know that it will not be easy to regain their trust, but I would like to fulfill my duties," Ichikawa said.
During a news conference in the morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura echoed Noda's decision to retain Ichikawa, saying a decision over the defense minister's future won't be made before the censure motion is submitted by the opposition.
Ichikawa, a member of the DPJ's powerful Ozawa faction, is under fire for admitting during Diet deliberations last week that he didn't "know the details" of the 1995 rape by three U.S. servicemen in Okinawa that triggered nationwide outrage and pushed the government to review the U.S. military's overwhelming presence on the island.
The opposition parties are also calling for his resignation because he oversees a top ministry official who reportedly used a Japanese euphemism for rape when discussing the timing for submitting an environmental impact report needed to pave the way for moving Futenma air base.
The politicians in Nagatacho, playing the blame game by pointing fingers at Ichikawa and ultimately Noda, who appointed him, appear to be showing a disconnect with the March 11 disaster victims, who are still struggling to rebuild their lives as the cold winter of northern Japan sets in.
In the past year, several ministers have had to step down for various reasons, including slips of the tongue.
In September, Yoshiho Hachiro resigned as trade minister only nine days after being appointed by Noda for calling the area around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant a "town of death."
During Naoto Kan's time as prime minister, the Upper House passed a censure motion against then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku in November 2010 for causing political confusion over the arrest of a Chinese skipper near the disputed Senkaku Islands, but he remained the government's top spokesman for another month and a half before a Cabinet reshuffle in January.
Minoru Yanagida resigned as justice minister amid harsh criticism from the opposition force late last year for joking about his duty to answer questions in the Diet.
Other recent short-tenured ministers include Seiji Maehara, who abruptly resigned as foreign minister after finding that he had received ¥250,000 in donations from a foreigner, which is against the Political Funds Control Law.