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Embattled Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday offered her first public apology for a remark asking voters to support a Liberal Democratic Party candidate in Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election as head of the ministry and the Self-Defense Forces.

Inada, however, insisted that she apologized because her remark “could cause misunderstanding” and implied that the public and the media did not understand her “real intention.”

“I didn’t mean at all to take advantage of my position for election campaigns,” Inada said at a regular news conference at the ministry. “I withdraw my remark and apologize for it because it could cause misunderstanding.”

Inada was questioned repeatedly by reporters about what exactly could have caused a misunderstanding. In response, she only repeated that she was sorry because the remark could be misunderstood.

Critics say the remark, made Tuesday at a rally in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, leaves little room for misinterpretation. She was recorded asking attendees to vote for an LDP candidate and saying that she was doing so “as a representative of the Defense Ministry, the SDF and the LDP, and as defense minister as well.”

Inada’s remark has made headlines and drawn strong public criticism because the election law bans public servants from taking advantage of their position while campaigning.

Meanwhile, the Self-Defense Forces Law and a related ordinance strictly prohibit military personnel from engaging in political activities beyond voting.

At Friday’s news conference, Inada said she only “meant to express my thanks to the local people” supporting a Ground Self-Defense Force division based nearby. But opposition lawmakers have pointed out that no part of her comments included any mention of “thanks.”

Ahead of Sunday’s election, members of the opposition camp have been vocally calling for Inada’s resignation. On Friday, she once again refused to step down.

“I will pay closer attention and brace myself for performing my duties as defense minister,” Inada said.

Inada, who was elected to the Lower House for the first time in 2005, was once considered a possible future prime minister because she was widely regarded a favorite of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who shares her conservative, nationalist views.

Abe has given her a number of key positions both in the LDP and the government, including policy affairs chief for the LDP. But few political observers regard her as a candidate to succeed Abe anymore because of the blunders she has made as defense chief, including the election remark.

It has long been considered taboo for members of the SDF to conduct political activity because of the way Japan’s militarism developed before and during World War II. Such activity is now strictly prohibited by law.

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