Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is defending embattled labor minister Takumi Nemoto for fear of a domino effect that may be sparked off if he resigns, sources say.
Abe’s previous administration was short-lived, ending in September 2007 after seeing one Cabinet minister resign after another due to scandals.
To prevent a repeat of such a scenario, Abe is trying to emphasize that the labor ministry’s statistics debacle is a long-term endemic issue that goes back before his Liberal Democratic Party regained power from the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan in 2012.
“Wrong handling has continued for a long time. We bear responsibility for failing to recognize it, and I take that seriously,” Abe told the Diet on Thursday.
Nemoto has been under fire after it was revealed late last year that his ministry failed to follow the proper procedure to gather labor survey data.
The monthly labor survey is used as the basis to decide benefits, including unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. As a result, it emerged the government failed to pay a total of more than ¥56 billion ($512 million) to more than 20 million people.
It also led to the government taking the unusual step of revising a regular draft budget already adopted by the Cabinet.
Abe and Nemoto have a close relationship. Both were elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 1993.
Some LDP members say Abe’s administration has few choices but to dismiss Nemoto, stressing the need to mitigate the negative impact of the scandal ahead of the House of Councilors election in summer.
But the prime minister has refused to listen, reiterating that Nemoto should play a leading role in working out preventive measures.
In Abe’s previous administration, which lasted a year from September 2006, several ministers resigned over gaffes and inappropriate use of political and other funds. One even committed suicide.
The LDP took a crushing defeat in the House of Councilors election in July 2007. Abe resigned two months later.
The current Cabinet also has scandal-tainted ministers.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso has stayed on despite a Finance Ministry scandal in which officials falsified records related to a questionable land deal with a school operator once linked with Abe’s wife, Akie.
Regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama was forced to correct political funds reports due to her office’s sloppy management of the funds.
“On no account will Nemoto quit. If he resigns, a question naturally arises as to why Aso does not also leave,” said an executive in Komeito, the LDP’s ally in the ruling coalition.
Another ruling coalition lawmaker reiterated that concern his resignation could trigger a domino effect meant Abe would refuse the opposition’s request.
So far, the statistics scandal has not affected public support for Abe’s Cabinet in any visible way, according to recent opinion polls by media organizations.