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Gaffe-prone Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Monday defended his use of the term “kokutai,” which referred to a national polity centering on the Emperor before and during World War II, and said he has no plans to retract it.

“It was not a slip of the tongue,” Mori said. “I didn’t say I have retracted it. I meant to say national polity and I didn’t link it with the old meaning of ‘kokutai.’ “

However, apparently concerned that his various controversial remarks are distancing him from voters and even some within his Liberal Democratic Party — and with general elections less than three weeks away — Mori apologized for the furor at a meeting at LDP headquarters in the afternoon.

“I offer you my apologies for causing a nuisance with my remarks,” Mori said.

The “kokutai” remark also attracted criticism from overseas. Shanghai’s Wenhui Daily newspaper called the term militaristic, adding that the use of the word revealed “the inner political beliefs and historical views of Mori.”

During a lecture Saturday in Nara, Mori criticized the Japanese Communist Party for disapproving of the Imperial system and the armed forces, asking, “How could we possibly secure Japan’s ‘kokutai’ and ensure public safety with such a party?”

In an apparent attempt Sunday to brush aside the criticism, Mori said Saturday’s remark was a “slip of the tongue.”

Critics and opposition parties say the phrase is proof that Mori clings to a past ideology that was used to justify Japan’s aggression.

“Kokutai” literally means the system of the nation or national polity, but the word was used before and during the war to refer to a national polity whose most important elements were rule by an unbroken Imperial line, and the concept of the state as a family in which the relationship between the Emperor and his subjects was likened to that of a father and his children.

Mori made the “kokutai” remark in reference to the possibility of the Democratic Party of Japan forming an alliance with the JCP after the June 25 Lower House election to succeed the current coalition government led by the LDP.

Seeking to undo possible damage before the election, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki also supported Mori’s explanation, saying it is not a serious problem.

Aoki said his understanding was that Mori used the term simply to mention the nation’s current system and possible alliances of political parties.

“I don’t intend to say it was appropriate (to use the term),” Aoki said. “But I don’t think we should take it as a serious problem. It is totally different from the matter involving his ‘divine nation’ remark.”

But Aoki said Mori should have used another expression because “kokutai” can easily cause “misunderstanding.”

Coalition members were worried about the controversy’s effect on the election. “Things are going from bad to worse,” one senior LDP member said.

Last month, Mori was criticized for commenting, before a gathering of like-minded Shinto-leaning politicians, that Japan is a “divine nation centering on the Emperor.”