EDITORIAL: Noda has only himself to blame for his misfortune

April 19, 2012

Three opposition parties jointly submitted censure motions against Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and transport minister Takeshi Maeda in the Upper House on April 18.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its allies cited Tanaka's ignorance of national security issues and accused Maeda of breaking the law by endorsing solicitations to back a specific candidate in a mayoral election.

The opposition-controlled Upper House is expected to approve the motions quickly, perhaps as early as April 20.

Thus, the stage is set for another political battle over censure motions. This has started to become a year-round event at the Diet.

In the past, this newspaper has criticized the opposition camp for resorting to censure motions and rejecting Diet deliberations purely as ploys to make life difficult for the ruling bloc.

These partisan battles have served only to demean the quality of the Diet as the nation’s legislature and deepen public distrust of politics. Our position has not changed.

That said, we do urge both Tanaka and Maeda to step down voluntarily.

Tanaka’s remarks at the Diet have left little doubt that he is an amateur in security affairs. It is highly doubtful whether Tanaka, who incorrectly identified a country where Self-Defense Forces are engaged in peacekeeping operations, can take responsibility for the lives and safety of the Japanese people and SDF personnel.

We feel uneasy about allowing him to take charge of dealing with sensitive constitutional issues, such as the easing of the standards for use of weapons by SDF troops involved in overseas peacekeeping operations. This is something that the government is now considering.

It also seems unlikely that Tanaka will regain the trust of people in Okinawa Prefecture through negotiations with the United States over issues concerning U.S. military bases in the prefecture, including the proposed relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

As for Maeda, he signed a document that was sent to the association of local construction companies and other organizations before official campaigning started for this month’s mayoral election in the city of Gero, Gifu Prefecture.

While promising policy support for the local tourist industry, it called for “guidance and encouragement” with regard to a specific candidate.

His action likely constituted an abuse of his status as a government employee in showing political favor. Also, pre-election campaigning is banned by the public offices election law.

Maeda claimed he signed the document without reading it. But can what he did be overlooked as just a thoughtless act? Was it rather an old-fashioned act of putting political pressure on constituencies to vote for a candidate by taking advantage of official power?

The principal blame for this situation rests with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

During the seven-and-a-half months since his Cabinet came into being, four ministers, including Tanaka's predecessor as defense minister, Yasuo Ichikawa, have faced censure motions. That is extraordinary.

Three of the four ministers are Upper House lawmakers who are generally believed to have been appointed to their posts on the basis of the political pecking order within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

Clearly, Noda should be roundly criticized for accepting such Cabinet appointments.

Oddly enough, however, Noda has leapt to the defense of both Tanaka and Maeda. He has not engaged in any soul-searching or offered an apology over his misguided decisions. That is hard to understand.

The censure motions are likely to delay Diet deliberations on the government’s bill to raise the consumption tax, on which Noda has staked his political life.

If he allows the two ministers to remain in office while fully aware of the likely political consequences, it would cast serious doubt on his commitment to his tax hike initiative.

If Noda simply drags his feet rather than take decisive action in response to the censure motions, he might end up being forced to replace the two ministers, probably after the Golden Week holidays.

Noda should replace them swiftly instead of allowing matters to unravel further.

Lastly, we urge the opposition parties to exercise discretion. Wasting precious time by rejecting Diet deliberations after the passage of the censure motions will do nothing but destroy the credibility of the Diet.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 19

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