National

Arnie flap terminates Justice chief; Jinnouchi new minister

Justice Minister Shozaburo Nakamura tendered his resignation Monday morning to take responsibility for several controversies swirling around him that have stalled Diet deliberations.

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi accepted the resignation immediately and appointed Takao Jinnouchi, a 65-year-old Upper House lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, as the new justice minister. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said the prime minister had chosen Jinnouchi because he is a man of character and has much experience.

Nonaka also said that the selection came from among LDP Upper House members to partially atone for the two Cabinet ministers who had to step down in January when Obuchi reduced the number of posts at the request of the Liberal Party, which the LDP was wooing as an ally. Both ministers were Upper House members.

Jinnouchi, who belongs to a faction led by Obuchi, currently serves as the Upper House’s Land and Environment Committee chairman.

Immediately after handing in his resignation at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Nakamura said, “I told the prime minister that my remarks have seriously obstructed Diet proceedings. So I submitted my resignation.”

Obuchi told reporters that accepting Nakamura’s resignation was unavoidable and expressed regret over the situation. “Since I had placed my hopes on his ability to implement judicial reforms, it is very regrettable that the situation has come to this,” Obuchi said. “I hope he will continue to work on judicial reforms and other important issues as a Diet member.”

Nakamura first came under fire in September when he was accused of abusing his authority by ordering the Justice Ministry to probe a resort development project that threatened a nearby hotel he effectively owns on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture. He later retracted the order.

He triggered more controversy in January by criticizing the Constitution in front of the ministry’s senior officials and calling for a revision of the charter. “Japanese are writhing over the inability to revise the Constitution, which was made by the Allied forces to prevent Japan from waging war, defending itself or having an army,” he said. He later retracted those remarks as well.

Nakamura also failed to pass on to appropriate ministry officials a letter from U.S. movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger seeking permission to enter Japan without a passport, prompting suggestions that Nakamura kept the letter as a souvenir. Schwarzenegger, who told Japanese immigration officials his passport had been stolen, was allowed to enter the country in October after flying to Osaka in a private plane to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a theme park there.

Top officials of Obuchi’s LDP initially believed that Nakamura’s gaffes were not matters that would require him to step down. But the tide turned on Nakamura late last week when New Komeito, which sits on the fence between the ruling and opposition blocs, joined opposition parties in calling for him to step down.

The Nakamura issue has shown that if New Komeito sides with the opposition camp, it can effectively paralyze Diet proceedings and delay passage of important bills during the current Diet session. Without New Komeito’s support, the ruling LDP-Liberal Party coalition would be ostensibly powerless since it lacks a majority in the Upper House.

Pending bills include those related to the fiscal 1999 state budget and revisions required to cover revised Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines.