Defense minister's competence questionable
Questions have been raised about Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa's competence.
It probably will be unavoidable at some stage to replace him.
The House of Councillors passed censure motions against Ichikawa and Kenji Yamaoka, state minister for consumer affairs, at a plenary session Friday with majority support from the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and other opposition parties.
Unlike a no-confidence motion in the House of Representatives, an upper house censure motion is not legally binding.
It is problematic that for their own interests opposition parties repeatedly present censure motions or refuse to attend Diet deliberations when censured ministers are present. They should refrain from adopting such strategies.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi both made clear they want to keep the two ministers in their posts.
They presumably concluded it would be undesirable to allow opposition parties to effectively hold absolute powers over cabinet ministers by passing censure motions against them in the upper house given the current divided Diet.
That is fully understandable.
The Defense Ministry faces a number of important issues, such as selection of the next-generation fighter aircraft, an environment impact assessment report for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture and the dispatch of a Ground Self-Defense Force unit to South Sudan on a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Govt wants to avoid fallout
Therefore, the government and the DPJ apparently want to avoid any fallout that could occur by replacing the defense minister at this stage.
But we wonder whether Ichikawa is aware of his responsibility.
Upon appointment to the post in September, Ichikawa said he was an "amateur" on security issues.
Last month, he skipped a state banquet at the Imperial Palace to attend a fund-raising party for a DPJ lawmaker, saying, "I thought this was more important."
Ichikawa has supervisory responsibility over the highly controversial comments made by a former chief of the ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau in connection with the Futenma relocation issue.
The defense minister himself provoked strong resentment from Okinawa Prefecture residents for saying in the Diet that he did not know the details about the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen in the prefecture.
He lacks competence and is unsuitable to be in charge of national defense.
It will also be difficult for him to restore a relationship of trust with Okinawa Prefecture.
Meanwhile, it came to light that Yamaoka had received political donations from and had cozy ties with companies involved in a pyramid scheme before assuming his current post.
In this regard, it makes sense for the opposition bloc to argue that Yamaoka is unsuited for the consumer affairs post.
All-out confrontation seen
If the prime minister does not replace the two ministers, the ordinary Diet session next year will almost certainly see an all-out confrontation between ruling and opposition parties from its outset.
In that event, it will be difficult for the ruling and opposition parties to start negotiations on the consumption tax hike, which the prime minister has expressed his "unwavering resolve" to carry through.
Without the cooperation of the opposition parties, it will be impossible to pass bills through the Diet.
The situation surrounding the Noda administration is growing increasingly tough.
The extraordinary Diet session that ended Friday failed to produce tangible results.
It managed to pass a supplementary budget and bills related to reconstruction of areas affected by the March 11 disaster.
But as the Diet session was not extended, deliberations on such important bills as those to cut central government officials' salaries, reform postal services and revise the worker dispatch law have been put off.
The Diet also postponed a decision to rectify the disparity in the value of votes in lower house elections.
Diet management by the government and the ruling parties is primarily to blame for the poor progress.
However, the opposition parties also bear heavy responsibility in the divided Diet.
It is time for the ruling and opposition parties to seriously discuss how to put an end to the political imbroglio.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 10, 2011)