Masahiro Imamura bows to reporters after submitting his resignation as reconstruction minister to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 26.
Masahiro Imamura resigned April 26 as minister in charge of disaster reconstruction amid a public outcry over his latest gaffe concerning people affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011.
“It was good that it happened over there, in the Tohoku region,” Imamura said of those catastrophic events at a fund-raising function for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party faction to which he belongs.
Imamura’s outrageous comment cast serious doubt on whether he truly comprehends the severity of the disaster, which left nearly 22,000 people dead, including cases attributed indirectly to the disaster, or missing.
He deserves to lose his job.
It was not the first time that Imamura had made an offensive remark about victims of the disaster. In early April, he stated that individuals who had voluntarily evacuated after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were responsible for the situation they faced. “They are responsible for their lives. They can file a lawsuit or do other things (if they disagree with the central government’s position),” he said.
Coming from a minister who was duty-bound to show utmost sympathy for the plight of disaster victims, these remarks were simply unacceptable.
ABE’S COMPLACENCY GALLING
But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe allowed Imamura to remain in the post. It was a clearly misguided decision that reflected Abe’s complacency about his overwhelming political clout due to the ruling camp’s dominance in the Diet.
Imamura’s gaffes are part of a pattern that signal the powerful ruling coalition’s arrogance and conceit.
Yosuke Tsuruho, the minister for Okinawa affairs, is another member of the Abe Cabinet who sparked public outrage.
Asked to comment on an incident in which a riot police officer derided local protesters against U.S. military helipads by calling them “dojin” during a confrontation in Higashi, in the northern part of Okinawa Prefecture, Tsuruho said, “I personally cannot say with certainty that referring to somebody as ‘dojin’ amounts to discrimination.” Tsuruho reiterated that position later on. Dojin is a derogatory word referring to indigenous people, insinuating that they are uncivilized primitives.
Tsuruho has refused to retract his remarks.
Kozo Yamamoto, the state minister in charge of regional revitalization, offered another example when he labeled museum curators as a cancer that must be rooted out. In a lecture at a seminar for regional revitalization, Yamamoto blurted out: “The biggest cancer is curators. They don’t have any ordinary tourism business mind-set whatsoever. We have to get rid of these folks.”
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada made a lame and clumsy excuse when she retracted her remarks denying in the Diet that she had provided legal advice to Yasunori Kagoike, then head of Moritomo Gakuen, a scandal-tainted school operator, admitting that she actually did. “Those responses were based on my memory, so I do not believe I made false responses,” Inada said.
And then there is the matter of Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, who has repeatedly made contradictory remarks about proposed legislation to punish people who conspired to commit crimes and has kept relying on bureaucrats at his ministry to answer related questions in the Diet.
All these incidents signal a condescending attitude toward the public among members of the Abe Cabinet.
Their failure to see things from the viewpoint of the public is perhaps best demonstrated by the Abe administration’s strong-arm tactics in forging ahead with land reclamation work for a new U.S. military base off the Henoko district of the city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in the face of fierce opposition from the prefectural government and residents.
Abe himself has made many questionable remarks.
One example came last week when he joked using the word “sontaku,” which roughly means conjecture about the wishes of another person to act in line with them. In the scandal over a controversial sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen at a deep discount, one core question is whether bureaucrats involved in the sale practiced “sontaku” to accommodate the implicit wishes of Abe and his wife, Akie.
Pointing out that a list of famous local specialties around the nation at a commercial outlet in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district didn’t include products from Yamaguchi Prefecture, his electoral constituency, Abe said, “Please do sontaku about what I’ve just said,” evoking laughter from those he was addressing.
POLITICAL DOMINANCE TO BLAME
When a lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party cited in a recent Diet session the results of an opinion poll showing 80 percent of the respondents remain unconvinced by the administration’s explanations about the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, Abe dodged the criticism by pointing out that the same opinion poll also showed that the Cabinet approval rating stood at 53 percent. And he added, “You also know the approval ratings for my Liberal Democratic Party, and your Democratic Party.”
The string of deplorable remarks by ministers appear to echo Abe’s hubris.
Indeed, the Cabinet has been enjoying solid and steady public support. A recent Asahi Shimbun poll showed that this was mainly due to a sense among respondents that it “looks better” than anything the other parties could cobble together.
This suggests that Japanese voters remain somewhat resigned to the sad political reality that there is no opposition party with sufficient clout to replace the government led by Abe, who has built an overwhelming political power base.
Heightened tensions in East Asia, along with Japan’s solid economic performance, powered by growing employment, also appear to be contributing to the public’s unwillingness to change the political status quo.
Another factor behind Abe’s political dominance is the concentration of power in the prime minister’s office due to a series of reforms that started in the late 1980s.
The LDP leadership now has the power to decide the party’s official candidates for elections as well as the allocation of state subsidies received by the party and key bureaucratic appointments. There is widespread reluctance among LDP members to defy the party leadership.
Also, no group within the ruling party is sufficiently powerful to challenge Abe’s leadership. As a result, the tone of criticism within the party against ministers who speak out of turn, let alone Abe’s problematic words and deeds, is only getting weaker.
PARTY INCAPABLE OF SOUL-SEARCHING
The Abe administration’s arrogance and conceit have reached extreme levels.
“If we become complacent about our majority control and stop showing humility, we will instantly lose public support.”
This is what Abe said after he led the LDP to victory in the 2014 Lower House election and again after the Diet descended into turmoil over national security legislation.
But he refrained from making a similar comment after the ruling coalition scored a big win in the Upper House poll last year.
Was it because the LDP secured a majority in both Diet chambers for the first time in 27 years?
After Imamura’s resignation, a senior LDP lawmaker made an astonishing statement that showed the party had not undertaken any serious soul-searching.
Commenting on the development, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai said, “The mass media meticulously records all remarks made by politicians and calls for their immediate resignation if they utter just one improper sentence. What a situation. We would be better off without them (media).”
Did he mean that the news media, not Imamura, is to blame?
Since Abe became prime minister for a second time in late 2012, five members of his Cabinet have stepped down to take responsibility for their inappropriate actions or words.
Every time a member of his Cabinet was forced to bow out, Abe said that he, as prime minister, was responsible for the appointment that had turned out to have been a blunder.
Although he has apoligized to the public for these incidents, Abe has never taken specific action.
Any government becomes complacent and arrogant if it stays in power for too long.
It is up to the people, the holders of sovereign power, to use their voices and take actions to force the government to mend its ways.