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Japan Ministers Quit Amid Scandals     10/20 06:25

   TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's trade and justice ministers resigned Monday after 
allegations they misused campaign funds in the biggest setback so far for Prime 
Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative administration.

   The two ministers were among five women Abe named to his Cabinet in a 
reshuffle early last month. Their resignations may help to control the damage 
to his relatively high popularity ratings, but are a blow to efforts to promote 
women in politics and business as part of economic revival policies.

   Yuko Obuchi, daughter of a former prime minister and a rising star in the 
ruling Liberal Democratic Party, resigned early Monday as trade minister, 
saying she needed to focus on an investigation into discrepancies in accounting 
for election funds. She did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

   Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resigned after the opposition Democratic 
Party of Japan filed a criminal complaint against her over distribution of 
hand-held fans or "uchiwa." Matsushima also faces complaints over using 
parliament-provided housing while keeping security guards at her private 
residence in downtown Tokyo.

   Speaking to reporters shortly after he accepted Matsushima's resignation, a 
somber Abe told reporters he was also responsible because he appointed the two 
women to his Cabinet.

   "I deeply apologize to the public," Abe said.

   Within hours, Abe named replacements, choosing Yoichi Miyazawa, 64, a former 
finance ministry official as trade minister. Miyazawa, from Hiroshima, served 
as a secretary years ago to his uncle, former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

   Abe chose Yoko Kamikawa, 61, a female lawmaker who has worked on demographic 
issues, as the new justice minister.

   Abe's first term in office, in 2006-2007, was marred by gaffes and 
resignations by his Cabinet ministers and he stepped down, citing ill health. 
His current term has been smoother, particularly in the first year as the stock 
market soared along with his popularity ratings.

   Pressure for faster action on economic reforms has risen, however, as the 
recovery faltered following a 3 percentage point increase in the sales tax in 
April.

   Political funding scandals are a chronic problem in Japan and key factor 
behind the revolving-door politics of recent decades.

   "These rules are in place precisely because vote-buying using gifts used to 
be very common in Japan and still is according to some accounts in the rural 
areas," said Koichi Nakano, a politics professor at Tokyo's Sophia University.

   The types of gifts and sums of money at the center of the latest allegations 
are relatively trivial compared with the record of previous governments. In one 
case, a stash of gold bullion pulled from an LDP lawmaker's offices. But the 
rules are well-known, and possible violations by a minister of justice did not 
set well, Nakano said.

   Two other female Cabinet members known as Abe's close allies on the right 
have been criticized for suspected ties with racist groups, marring his efforts 
to encourage Japan to accept more women in leadership positions.

   Abe's broad gender agenda includes pushing companies to promote more women, 
expanding spaces for day care, and other measures intended to help encourage 
improved opportunities for Japan's highly educated but underemployed female 
workforce. Such moves are vital for economic growth as Japan's population 
declines and ages.

   Obuchi, who as trade minister was overseeing the cleanup and decommissioning 
of the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, said a thorough 
investigation into the problems with her campaign funds would interfere with 
her duties.

   "I apologize for not being able to make any contributions as a member of the 
Abe Cabinet in achieving key policy goals," Obuchi said.

   The Cabinet resignations are the first for Abe since he took office in late 
2012.

   The opposition DPJ lost power to Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party 
in late 2012 and is seeking whatever leverage it can against the LDP's 
overwhelming parliamentary majority.

   Hence the focus on such issues as presents of leeks, baby clothes, theater 
tickets and fans by lawmakers to their supporters. The "uchiwa" distributed by 
Matsushima reportedly cost a mere 80 yen (75 cents) each, but are a possible 
violation of the election law.

   Matsushima contends they should be allowed as campaign "leaflets."

   Analysts said Obuchi's troubles stem from a campaign apparatus set up 
decades ago when her grandfather and then her father were in office.

   She apologized for funding irregularities, though she said she had found no 
evidence of alleged personal use of campaign funds that were paid to a company 
run by a relative. But discrepancies in the accounting for several years have 
raised a "major doubt," she said.

   "This is my own fault and I will focus on investigating so that I can regain 
trust from my supporters as soon as possible," Obuchi said.


(KA)


 
 
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