Defense Minister Tomomi Inada drew fire after she stated in a campaign speech for a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate running in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, "I would like to ask for your support on behalf of the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), as the defense minister, and on behalf of the Liberal Democratic Party."
Such a statement can hardly be expected from someone who recognizes her position as the defense minister. The statement sounds as if the defense minister, who leads the SDF, backs one particular candidate in an organized fashion.
Although Inada subsequently retracted her remarks, the problem doesn't stop there as the content of her speech is irrelevant in that it distorts the impartiality of public administration and raises doubts about her use of the SDF for political gain.
SDF members -- who number approximately 230,000 -- are mandated by the public to be engaged in national defense and disaster relief missions as "public servants of all citizens," as they are called in compliance with a constitutional provision for public officials. Article 61 of the Self-Defense Forces Act places restrictions on SDF members' political actions except the exercising of the right to vote, in order to secure public confidence in the role of SDF personnel.
One is tempted to question if Inada, who is a lawyer, has a good understanding of these legal norms as a Cabinet minister responsible for the SDF. It is only natural for a defense minister to be accused of using the SDF for political purposes if they sought voter support for a candidate "on behalf of the SDF" and in the name of the "defense minister."
Furthermore, Inada's remarks could also infringe upon Article 136-2 of the Public Offices Election Act, which prohibits election campaigning by using one's status as a civil servant, as Cabinet members are national public servants in the special service.
It should be strictly prohibited for a defense minister who is responsible for the SDF -- an organization with a clear chain of command -- to encourage political actions in violation of the SDF Act. Such behavior would in turn undermine public confidence in the SDF.
Inada's latest remarks follow a string of previous gaffes that sparked widespread controversy. She came under fire after insisting that the term "combat," which was used in a daily report written by a Ground Self-Defense Force unit engaged in U.N. peacekeeping missions in South Sudan, did not refer to "an act of combat in a legal sense," but rather to an event akin to "an armed conflict."
Inada also retracted her Diet testimony denying she had ever represented scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen as an attorney in the past. However, after the retraction she denied having ever made false statements in the legislature.
As for her latest controversial remark, Inada withdrew her campaign speech on the grounds that it was "misleading." The retraction, however, was not made voluntarily but reportedly at the urging of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has constantly defended Inada despite her problematic comments. Isn't it about time for Abe to realize his lukewarm stance may be feeding the seemingly endless spate of gaffes and other irresponsible remarks by his fellow Cabinet members?