Underling’s gaffe spells censure motion for Ichikawa

Kyodo

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito agreed Friday to submit a censure motion to the Upper House against Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa over a subordinate’s indiscreet remark that disparaged Okinawa.

The motion, which may be submitted Dec. 9, the day the current Diet session ends, casts a further cloud over the government’s push to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa and efforts to gain local consent for the move.

Other opposition parties are expected to join the LDP and New Komeito, which are holding Ichikawa, as the titular supervisor, responsible for his subordinate’s gaffe as well as his own previous comments and actions that they say show he is unfit to be defense minister.

Mikio Shimoji, secretary general of Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), the junior partner in the Democratic Party of Japan-led ruling bloc, did not make clear what his party’s stance will be on the censure motion, which is nonbinding.

Chances are high the motion will be passed by the opposition-controlled Upper House.

Despite the push for censure, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, the DPJ chief, told a Diet panel session that he wants Ichikawa to stay on as defense chief and defended his decision to give him the Cabinet portfolio.

Ichikawa, too, has expressed his resolve to stay at his post.

However, fearing the latest scandal may affect Diet deliberations, some ruling bloc lawmakers are suggesting that Ichikawa be replaced. Since the coalition only controls the Lower House, cooperation from the opposition is crucial for passing bills.

During a drinking session Monday with members of the media, Okinawa Defense Bureau chief Satoshi Tanaka, discussing the plan to submit the environmental report on the Futenma relocation site, was reported to have said, using euphemisms to imply a sexual assault: “Do you declare that you are going to commit an act before you do so?” He was sacked the next day.

The relocation plan has long been stalled due to strong opposition in Okinawa for any move of the contentious base within the prefecture. The government has been preparing to submit the environmental assessment report to Okinawa to move the relocation plan forward.

Ichikawa flew to Okinawa to apologize to Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Friday night.