New scandal hits Japan cabinet as parliament opens

A fresh scandal hit Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's troubled cabinet on Tuesday even as opposition parties took control of parliament's upper house after the ruling coalition was routed at the polls.

New scandal hits Japan cabinet as parliament opens
A fresh scandal hit Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's troubled cabinet on Tuesday even as opposition parties took control of parliament's upper house after the ruling coalition was routed at the polls.

Abe is struggling to keep his job as his support plummets, after voters outraged at scandals and bungled pension records turned to the opposition in the upper house election last month.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Jinen Nagase said he had accepted money from a rural group that recruits foreign trainees for businesses last year after giving advice on visas. He later returned the funds, which he had seen as a donation.

"I usually accept money that's given to me to support me," Nagase told a news conference.

"I don't think the money is suspicious."

Abe plans to reshuffle his wounded cabinet to try for a fresh start after a string of scandals including a minister who killed himself and three others who were fired or quit, most of them for accusations of funding irregularities.

The prime minister, who took office last September, did not have to step down after the election defeat because his ruling coalition has a big majority in the more powerful lower chamber.

"I know there are many calls for me to resign to take responsibility for the outcome of the election," Abe told a meeting with his party. "It is a very tough road, but I decided that I need to take responsibility by pushing forward reforms."

Still, Abe faces dwindling public support and an uphill battle to pass legislation, including a law to extend support for US-led war efforts in Afghanistan.

Parliament meets this week in a brief session to reshuffle upper house appointments after the election, but Abe will face his first real test in a session of parliament expected to start at the end of the month. Japanese media predict the cabinet reshuffle a few days earlier.

Legislation rejected by the upper house can be forced through by the ruling camp, thanks to its dominance in the lower house, but doing so is time consuming and the upper house can veto some key appointments, such as for central bank governor.

Build on momentum

Main opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa wants to build on the momentum from the upper house poll to seek an early election for the lower house, and oust Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled for most of the past five decades.

"Parliament sessions will be different from now on.... Our next target is winning the election for the lower house, which means a change of government," said Yoshiaki Takaki, who is in charge of parliamentary strategy for Ozawa's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

"The life of a political party is policy, so we will try to explain our policy clearly to the Japanese people."

The opposition must tread a fine line between asserting its new-found clout and angering voters by appearing obstructionist, analysts say.

"What the DPJ has got to do is look responsible ... and demonstrate that they can govern," said Brad Glosserman, executive director of Hawaii-based think-tank Pacific Forum CSIS.

"They are going to have to do more than just oppose."

LDP heavyweights have agreed to let Abe keep his job for now, not least because of the lack of a popular candidate to succeed him, but support for the prime minister is still falling.

A poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily showed support for Abe's cabinet sliding to about 27 percent, down 11 points from June, while one by the Mainichi newspaper showed support at 22 percent.

The results match other surveys showing support falling below 30 percent, a level seen by analysts as critical for Abe to stay.

Reuters
Last Mod: 07 Ağustos 2007, 17:20
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