Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision to practically force Defense Minister Tomomi Inada out over allegations of a cover-up involving peacekeepers' logs will inevitably call into question the prime minister's responsibility for appointing her.
Inada handed Abe her resignation letter on July 28 and is set to step down before the prime minister reshuffles his Cabinet, which is expected on Aug. 3.
The decision comes only a few days after the prime minister dismissed opposition parties' demands that Inada be discharged from her post. "I'd like her to fulfill her responsibility by thoroughly investigating the case and implementing measures to prevent a recurrence," Abe told an out-of-session meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on July 25. Inada also told her aides that she would stay on until Aug. 3.
However, some news outlets recently reported the existence of a handwritten note by a Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) officer stating that the organization had informed Inada of the existence of the logs on Feb. 13.
The news reports have damaged the credibility of Inada's claim that she had never been notified of the logs, sparking calls within the ruling coalition urging her to step down.
Inada decided to step down apparently at the strong urging of Abe. After Inada and Defense Ministry Inspector General Michio Kitamura briefed Abe on July 27 of the ministry's special inspection on the alleged cover-up, the prime minister and the defense minister are believed to have discussed whether she should resign.
A ruling Liberal Democratic Party source close to Inada said, "I guess the defense minister consulted with the prime minister and then was urged to step down."
Ruling and opposition parties are exploring the possibility of holding another set of out-of-session Diet meetings on the alleged cover-up early next week after the outcome of the ministry's special inspection of the case was announced on July 28.
If Inada were to appear at the Diet, however, the meetings would certainly be thrown into confusion.
Therefore, the prime minister's office worked out a scenario of dismissing Administrative Vice Defense Minister Tetsuro Kuroe as well as GSDF Chief of Staff Toshiya Okabe and forcing Inada to step down in a desperate bid to settle the matter.
However, opposition parties are bitterly criticizing the prime minister for allowing Inada to resign before getting to the bottom of the allegations.
"The responsibility of the prime minister, who had defended Inada until the situation became so serious, is grave," said Kazunori Yamanoi, head of the largest opposition Democratic Party's Diet Affairs Committee.
Under these circumstances, there is no guarantee that the Abe government can draw the curtain on the matter as the prime minister's office desires.