National / Politics

DP calls for new Okinawa minister to be sacked after ‘reading aloud’ gaffe in Diet

Kyodo

The Democratic Party called Monday for the new minister in charge of issues related to Okinawa to be sacked after he made a gaffe just two days after being assigned the post in the latest Cabinet reshuffle.

Tetsuma Esaki told reporters Saturday that he would “read aloud” text prepared by government bureaucrats so as not to make mistakes when responding to questions in the Diet, something ministers regularly do but rarely admit to doing — especially in public.

The 73-year-old lawmaker from Aichi Prefecture also told reporters after a gathering in his constituency the same day that he is an “amateur” in regard to issues related to the disputed Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, which his Cabinet portfolio also covers. That places him in charge of issues related to those islands, though his role does not cover diplomatic negotiations.

The islets were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945, and have been a source of long-standing diplomatic friction between Japan and Russia.

On Monday, the six-term House of Representatives member from the Liberal Democratic Party, taking a Cabinet-level post for the first time, apologized for his comments, saying he had meant to say that he “would make remarks while checking (prepared) texts” and that he failed to make himself understood when speaking to reporters.

Esaki’s gaffe comes despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to revive public trust by replacing some ministers who had been under fire over various controversial statements, such as former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.

Kazunori Yamanoi, the Diet affairs committee chairman of the DP, the main opposition party, criticized Abe’s appointment of Esaki, saying Monday that the new minister does not deserve to sit in a “Cabinet of professionals,” as the prime minister calls it, and that he should be replaced.

Esaki had initially declined Abe’s offer of a Cabinet post, citing the hard work required of a minister. But he changed his mind after he was persuaded by Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP secretary-general and head of a faction to which they both belong, according to sources close to the matter.