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Gaffes by Abe Cabinet ministers sign of carelessness due to stable approval rates

Kozo Yamamoto, state minister in charge of regional revitalization. (Mainichi)

There seems to be no end to foot-in-mouth incidents among ministers in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after which they are forced to apologize and retract their gaffes. That such blunders have been so common shows a tendency toward carelessness resulting from stable approval ratings for the administration.

Kozo Yamamoto, state minister in charge of regional revitalization, told the audience at a seminar held in the Shiga Prefecture capital of Otsu on April 16 that "curators are the No. 1 cancer" to the promotion of tourism because they lack "a spirit for serving tourists," and need to be "wiped out."

This took place less than 10 days after Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of reconstruction from the disaster-hit Tohoku region, had retracted a statement in which he said that those who "voluntarily" evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture due to fears of radiation after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster even though their places of residence were not under evacuation orders were "responsible for taking care of themselves."

As with Imamura's remark, an uproar ensued over Yamamoto's comment. Yamamoto told reporters at the Diet on April 17, "I regret that I went as far as to say what I did. I retract my statement and offer an apology." He then indicated that he had no intention of resigning from his post, saying, "I will put all my efforts into bringing regional areas back to life."

A senior official at the prime minister's office expressed concern about carelessness among Cabinet ministers and said, "We call on ministers to be extra careful when they go to regional areas, because they tend to want to try to say something that gets a reaction from their audiences." A simple blunder has the potential to bring down an entire administration, as the country remains in a state of high alert over North Korea's nuclear tests and missile launches.

Approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet exceed 50 percent, according to public opinion polls carried out by various media outlets, and support for opposition parties remains low. The Abe administration's long tenure as an uncontested power, with no change to the situation in sight, has been reflected in a kind of arrogant carelessness.

"Cabinet members should always take responsibility for their statements as Cabinet members," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who is trying hard to keep the Cabinet in line, told an April 17 press conference. However, the majority of those in the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito see no problem with the comment Yamamoto made about curators on April 16.

At an April 17 meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration, Democratic Party (DP) legislator Shiori Yamao, who previously served as the party's policy chief, argued that Yamamoto's comment "as a representative for the state" was "incredibly disrespectful." Abe merely responded, "I have been told that Mr. Yamamoto apologized and retracted his remarks." Similarly, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said at a press conference, "I have no intention of commenting on this matter further." Both reactions exemplify the government's intent to quickly close the curtains on the scandal.

DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda told a press conference April 17, "One can only say that the series of off-key statements made by Cabinet members demonstrates negligence on the part of the administration," emphasizing that his party was ready to keep pursuing the blunders in the Diet.

Meanwhile, Akira Koike, the secretariat chief of the Japanese Communist Party, sought the resignation of Yamamoto, saying, "The person who needs to be 'wiped out' is someone like this Cabinet minister."

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