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Reconstruction Minister Sacked After Fresh Gaffe

SNA (Tokyo) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have repeatedly been warning this particularly gaffe-prone set of Cabinet ministers to exercise caution and to be very careful about what they say in public. Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura, however, didn’t seem to get the memo, and after a fresh gaffe he is swiftly out.

Imamura is not a particularly sympathetic character. This 70-year-old, seven-term House of Representatives lawmaker is known for his many affiliations with rightwing organizations. Despite his long years in the Diet, last August was the first time he was appointed to a ministerial post. A week later he became the first member of the new Cabinet to visit Yasukuni Shrine.

It was as recently as the beginning of this month that Minister Imamura hit the national headlines with his angry outburst at a freelance journalist who challenged him on his policies of withdrawing financial support for “voluntary” evacuees from regions adjoining the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Imamura declared that such evacuees had “self-responsibility” to put their lives back in order and yelled at the reporter to “shut up” and “get out of here.”

The whole scene of the minister’s meltdown was filmed in an official press conference and was later well viewed by the public on both television and the internet. Imamura subsequently apologized for his comments and behavior, and Prime Minister Abe defended him against calls for his resignation.

That, of course, is the background to this evening’s event. At a political party, guided by who knows what kind of poor judgment, Minister Imamura decided to use his speech to editorialize on comparative disasters. He indicated that “it was a good thing that the 3.11 disaster happened in Tohoku” because the area is marginal to the Japanese national economy as compared, for example, to Tokyo.

Coming on top of his earlier gaffe which also showed a lack of empathy for the victims of the 3.11 triple disaster, it was really too much to bear. As Reconstruction Minister his very mandate, politically speaking, is to create a sense that the government takes disaster recovery seriously.

Prime Minister Abe has repeatedly stood by his ministers, but this time he obviously told Imamura it was time to go. Within an hour or so of Imamura telling reporters he did not intend to resign, the next message was that he was resigning. It was a swift sacking in all but name.

Clearly, this is yet another indication of the spreading indiscipline of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which continues to benefit from strong public support in spite of numerous, escalating missteps. This time, too, the public is likely to express annoyance at the latest gaffe, but figure that the Abe administration is still much better than any Democratic Party-led government.