Officials at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry were bewildered Monday in the wake of the defeat of its minister Takashi Fukaya and four of his predecessors in Sunday’s general election.
In the election, two serving ministers and 15 former ministers or agency heads, of whom 14 were running as candidates of the Liberal Democratic Party, lost their seats. MITI, however, was hardest hit with five serving or former ministers losing seats.
Fukaya was defeated by Yoshikatsu Nakayama of the Democratic Party of Japan in the Tokyo No. 2 constituency, while his immediate predecessor, Kaoru Yosano, lost his seat in the Tokyo No. 1 constituency.
The other big-name losers who once served as trade chief are Hikaru Matsunaga, Shinji Sato and Eiichi Nakao.
MITI bureaucrats appeared to be especially shocked by Fukaya’s defeat, which came despite his overseeing of a series of measures to help small firms — most notably the galvanization of a scheme to provide credit guarantees to those suffering from the acute credit crunch.
Fukaya’s constituency in downtown Tokyo is home to a large number of small- and medium-size firms.
“It’s truly a pity that (the poll result) turned out in such a way,” said Katsusada Hirose, vice minister for international trade and industry. “We thought the electorate would acknowledge the minister’s laborious efforts in matters concerning economic recovery, economic structural reform, small and medium enterprises, as well as the World Trade Organization and free trade agreements.”
Hirose insisted that Fukaya’s election defeat does not mean that his ministry’s policies, such as promoting small and venture businesses, failed to win public support.
One ministry official, however, could not hide his disappointment, saying “We now have fewer influential politicians who are sympathetic to our policies.”
Sunday’s election also sent a shock to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which witnessed the defeat of a serving minister for the first time since 1976.
“I’m sorry for the defeat of Minister Tamazawa who is very knowledgeable about farm policies,” one official at the ministry said.
Another official said, “We at the ministry feel a bit awkward to have our serving minister defeated in the election.”
A senior ministry official, however, played down the impact, saying that the ministry’s policy will not change.
Among other former Cabinet members who lost in Sunday’s election are former Chief Cabinet Secretary Masayoshi Takemura of Sakigake, whose defeat means the party will not be represented in the Diet.
Koko Sato, who was forced to resign as Management and Coordination Agency chief shortly after assuming the post in 1997 due to his bribery conviction in a 1970s payoff scandal involving defense contractor Lockheed Corp., lost to a DPJ candidate.
Michio Ochi, former chairman of the Financial Reconstruction Commission, was crushed by a DPJ candidate in Tokyo. Ochi resigned as FRC chief in February over remarks apparently indicating his intention to help banks get more lenient audits.
The LDP’s Hajime Funada, former chief of the Economic Planning Agency, lost his seat in a Tochigi Prefecture constituency. His defeat, also to a DPJ candidate, was partly attributed to his alleged affair with Kei Hata, a House of Councilors’ member, before a divorce with his previous wife. Funada married Hata in May 1999.
Two other losers from parties other than the LDP were former Defense Agency chief Keisuke Nakanishi, a senior member of the New Conservative Party, and former National Land Agency head Kosuke Uehara of the DPJ.
Former Defense Agency and Environment Agency chief Kazuo Aichi, former Education Minister Takashi Kosugi, former Finance Minister Hikaru Matsunaga and Shigeru Kasuya, former head of the Hokkaido and Okinawa development agencies, also lost.
Other losers included former Construction Minister Yoshiaki Kibe and former Home Affairs Minister Katsuhiko Shirakawa.
Shirakawa’s private secretary was earlier indicted on charges of receiving a 30,000 yen gift certificate for acting as a go-between in an alleged coverup involving the Niigata Prefectural Police.