Japan's Justice Minister resigned yesterday over comments that made light of his duty to respond to questioning in parliament, a blow to the ruling Democratic party as it struggles to keep Japan's fragile economic recovery alive.
Minoru Yanagida said last week that as justice minister he only needed to remember two comments when facing questions from MPs: "I do not comment on specific cases" and "We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on law and evidence."
The remarks set off a firestorm of criticism from MPs, who demanded he step down from his post.
The gaffe is the latest setback for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose plunging support in opinion polls has emboldened the political opposition.
The resignation doesn't threaten Mr Kan's grip on power, but is likely to further erode public support for an administration already facing anger over his perceived weakness in handling recent diplomatic spats with China and Russia. The political sparring in parliament has delayed progress on a $61bn (£38bn) financial stimulus package, even as deflation and a strong yen threaten the struggling economy.
"It is my fault that I made those imprudent and joking comments, and I must apologise deeply," Mr Yanagida said yesterday. He said he decided to step down after meeting with the prime minister, who expressed concern about the debate holding up the passage of the stimulus package, which includes financial support for small businesses and local economies.
The main opposition party had been preparing a censure motion against Mr Yanagida and threatening to boycott parliamentary deliberations on the stimulus budget if he didn't resign.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku will take over as Justice Minister until a new candidate is found. "Our cabinet will buckle down and sincerely respond to parliamentary affairs," he said.
Passage of the stimulus package is almost guaranteed because the ruling Democrats control the more powerful lower house. Even if the opposition-controlled upper house rejects the package, it will become law within 30 days.