Editorial: Ill-considered appointments weigh on Japan PM with exit of Akiba, Sugita
Does Prime Minister Fumio Kishida think he has done his year-end cleaning in his Cabinet?
Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba, who had been pursued by opposition parties over political funds and other scandals, and Mio Sugita, a parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications who was pressed to apologize for and retract past discriminatory remarks, have both resigned under pressure.
The replacement of the two officials is aimed at regenerating the government structure ahead of the first regular session of the Diet to be convened in January next year. But we have seen an unusual state of affairs with four Cabinet members stepping down in just two months. The ministers have fallen like dominoes without end, and the political administration is being shaken.
During an extraordinary session of the Diet this past autumn, Akiba was criticized for funneling office rent to his family, with suggestions that he was operating a "family business."
Furthermore, despite stressing that he had no connections with the Unification Church, it came to light that he had been paying membership dues to a group linked to the religious organization, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
During the House of Representatives Election last year, he was also found to have paid two secretaries for election campaign activities in addition to their salaries, raising suspicions of a violation of the Public Offices Election Act.
Pressed to respond to the allegations in the Diet, he had to put off his inspection of disaster-hit areas and take other action that hindered him from performing his public duties. Prime Minister Kishida had the opportunity to replace him at an early stage, but merely stated that he would have Akiba "fulfill his accountability," just like with the other three Cabinet ministers.
The problems surrounding Sugita, who was replaced in a move taking advantage of the confusion in the situation, were even more serious.
Sugita previously criticized sexual minorities in a contribution to a monthly magazine, saying, "They don't produce children; in other words, they are unproductive." She also posted information on her own blog insulting the traditional cultures of Korean and Ainu people. This was on top of a series of other discriminatory remarks.
Sugita finally retracted some of her comments on Dec. 2, but even after submitting her resignation, she showed no signs of remorse, maintaining that she "didn't discriminate" and stating, "There are many people who hear my comments and support me."
Sugita's qualifications as a Diet member were in doubt to begin with. Yet the prime minister appointed her as a member of the Cabinet and continually refused demands from the opposition to replace her on the grounds that she was a person "capable as a parliamentary vice minister." He bears a heavy responsibility for appointing her.
Whenever scandals involving Cabinet ministers and other officials have occurred, the government's repetition of late responses bit by bit has caused the public to lose trust in politics. It is a heavy price to pay for ill-considered appointments. The prime minister must seriously reflect on the situation.