Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday appointed former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano to replace trade minister Yoshio Hachiro, who stepped down after only eight days in the post over his controversial remarks on the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Edano, a lawyer known for his debating skills, served as the top spokesman for the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Naoto Kan during the reactor meltdown crisis that started March 11.
By appointing Edano, who was in the thick of dealing with the nuclear crisis from the start, Noda is apparently attempting to minimize the political damage.
“I think the prime minister chose (Edano) for his ability and achievements in dealing not only with the overall restoration and reconstruction from the March 11 disaster but also for being deeply engaged in resolving the Fukushima issue,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference.
Edano received plaudits from the public for his composure at news conferences amid the nuclear crisis. As a former policy chief for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, Edano is considered a policy maven.
On the other side of the ledger, his key position in the Kan Cabinet exposes him to criticism for any of the previous administration’s blunders. The chief Cabinet secretary is the government’s top spokesman, and is often considered the “linchpin” of a Cabinet. He or she is the key policy coordinator between ministries as well as the ruling party and the rest of the government.
Overall, the inclusion of Hachiro in the Cabinet was seen as part of a plan to maintain unity in a party riven by conflict between followers and foes of indicted kingpin Ichiro Ozawa.
As one of the toughest “anti-Ozawa” DPJ members, Edano’s appointment raises concerns of renewed internal conflict.
Fujimura tried to brush off such concerns.
Noda “wants to give full play to everyone’s abilities and in that sense I don’t think the appointment of Mr. Edano will greatly affect party unity,” Fujimura said.
Hachiro triggered public outrage for calling the area around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant a “town of death” after a visit there with Noda last week. He also reportedly joked to several in the media that he had smeared radioactive materials onto the clothing of a reporter after returning from his trip to Fukushima.
Hachiro’s subsequent resignation was a major setback for Noda’s Cabinet, which was launched earlier this month with relatively high support for its fresh lineup. As the overseer of Japan’s nuclear policy, the minister of economy, trade and industry is an especially significant position.
Hachiro’s remarks came at a time when more than 54,400 people in Fukushima alone remain displaced due to the earthquake and nuclear crisis.
On Sunday, Noda bowed deeply and apologized over Hachiro’s gaffes.
“My position that there is no restoration of Japan without the restoration of Fukushima remains unchanged,” Noda said.