Blow to Japanese PM as minister resigns

Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 01:00

JAPAN’S JUSTICE minister resigned yesterday after an uproar over his past ties to members of organised crime, putting further pressure on prime minister Yoshihiko Noda to call national elections.

Keishu Tanaka, who was appointed just three weeks ago in a cabinet reshuffle, resigned for health reasons, the government’s top spokesman, Osamu Fujimura, said at a news conference yesterday. But Mr Tanaka’s resignation came after days of haranguing from opposition lawmakers over a magazine report that said he had been associated with a Japanese organised crime syndicate.

Mr Tanaka acknowledged he had helped with the wedding of an organised crime member three decades ago and that he had attended a party hosted by a mobster boss. He initially refused to resign, saying he had been unaware of their mob connections at the time.

He had also been accused of accepting political donations from a foreign resident in Japan, in violation of Japanese law. Amid the mounting accusations, he checked in to a Tokyo hospital on Friday, complaining of chest pains, according to local media reports. He was discharged on Monday.

Connections between Japan’s notorious gangsters and the political and business elite were not uncommon in the past, though a recent crackdown on organised crime has made such links far riskier. Mr Tanaka’s resignation is a significant setback for Mr Noda, who has tried to maintain a hold on power for his governing Democratic Party despite languishing poll ratings. Earlier this year Mr Noda ushered key bills through parliament – including a tax increase to pay for Japan’s burgeoning debt – only by promising to hold elections “soon”. But with poll results indicating that the Democrats are almost certain to lose, Mr Noda has tried to buy time. He reshuffled his cabinet earlier this month and called for another parliamentary session, incensing opposition lawmakers, who have stepped up their calls for a snap election.

The party most likely to gain is the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan almost uninterrupted for a half-century until it was dislodged in 2009 by the Democrats. But the Democrats, who came into power with promises to change Japan’s postwar order, have been plagued by a series of weak prime ministers and a gridlocked parliament that has crippled policymaking.

– (New York Times)