Through rain or shine or even after Sunday’s humiliating drubbing, the government must go on, so Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his ministers Tuesday morning held their first Cabinet meeting since the election, a gloomy gathering participants likened to a wake.
After an unprecedented eight Cabinet members lost their Diet seats, the grim-faced ministers took up their usual places in the meeting room.
Education minister Makiko Tanaka, the outspoken daughter of the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka who lost her seat on the anniversary of her father’s death, later blasted Noda for dissolving the Lower House at a time when his Democratic Party of Japan faced strong public disfavor.
The meeting “was held in the morning, but the atmosphere felt like we were at a wake,” Tanaka told reporters. “When the prime minister dissolved the Lower House, I knew it was going to be suicidal, and that’s what it was.”
The ruling DPJ was crushed in the general election, winning only 57 seats, or just a fourth of its pre-election strength, and the majority of Cabinet members no longer have Diet badges.
Article 68 of the Constitution stipulates that the majority of Cabinet ministers must be lawmakers, but the departing Noda administration is not meeting that threshold.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, who became the first person in that post to lose a Diet seat, said there are “no legal problems” with having unseated ministers because all of those who were in the Lower House lost their lawmaker status after Noda dissolved the chamber and they can carry on in their capacity for 30 days after the election. The next government is expected to be established Dec. 26.
Of the 13 Cabinet members who ran Sunday, only Noda, Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, trade minister Yukio Edano and strategy minister Seiji Maehara managed to retain their seats.
“I think the election results surpassed what would be described as extremely severe. I am disappointed,” said Finance Minister Koriki Jojima. “The timing of the dissolution came earlier than expected and we didn’t have enough time to reach out to the public.”
Noda had been facing mounting calls, particularly from the Liberal Democratic Party, to dissolve the Lower House but had stalled, vowing only to call an election “soon” after his key goals had been met. Then last month he announced out of the blue that he was dissolving the chamber.
The LDP, desperate to regain control of the government, repeatedly pressured Noda, even calling him a “liar,” until he finally broke.
“I don’t think it was the right time. It was all for the sake of the prime minister’s self-satisfaction,” Tanaka said bitterly.