• KYODO, Staff report

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday that sexist remarks by Olympic chief Yoshiro Mori are not in line with Japan’s national interests, but stopped short of saying he should resign, even as a poll over the weekend found about 60% of people in Japan believe Mori is “not qualified” for the top job.

During a debate at the Lower House Budget Committee, Suga said Mori’s comments last week that women talk too much at meetings were “not desirable for national interests.”

But when an opposition party lawmaker asked Suga to push Mori to step down after a wave of criticism both at home and abroad, Suga declined to insert himself into the controversy and insisted that it is not up to him to decide Mori’s fate.

“This is a matter for the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, an independent organization, so the government believes decisions related to the remarks should be made over there,” Suga said.

A Kyodo News survey found Sunday that 59.9% believe Mori is not qualified for his role as the head of the committee, while 32.8% said they were unable to say whether he is qualified or not.

The weekend telephone survey showed that just 6.8% of respondents believe Mori is “qualified” for the job.

The survey also found that 47.1% think this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be postponed again due to the coronavirus pandemic, while 35.2% believe the games should be canceled and just 14.5% say the event should be held as planned.

Meanwhile, the approval rate for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet, which has been hit by a series of scandals since it was formed in September, fell 2.5 percentage points from last month to 38.8%, according to the nationwide poll.

Suga and the Tokyo Olympic organizers have insisted that the games will open this summer following a one-year postponement, but the global health crisis continues to cloud those prospects.

With less than six months until the opening of the Olympics, the sexist comments about women by Mori, an 83-year-old former prime minister, have triggered a backlash at home and abroad.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a Diet Lower House session in Tokyo on Jan. 18. The scandal surrounding Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori has been a headache for Suga, who has said it is outside his purview to ask the former prime minister to quit his post. | AFP-JIJI
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a Diet Lower House session in Tokyo on Jan. 18. The scandal surrounding Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori has been a headache for Suga, who has said it is outside his purview to ask the former prime minister to quit his post. | AFP-JIJI

During a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee on Wednesday, Mori, who is known for being gaffe-prone, said women tend to talk too much in meetings as they have “a strong sense of rivalry.”

He apologized for the “inappropriate” comments and retracted them the following day.

The survey also found that if the games were to be held, 43.1% want them to go ahead without spectators, while 49.6% support having limits on the number of fans allowed at each venue.

Meanwhile, 32.8% said they were satisfied with the coronavirus measures implemented by the government, up 7.9 percentage points from the previous poll, compared with 59.3% who said it had not appropriately dealt with the pandemic, down 9.0 points.

Earlier this month, Suga extended a state of emergency over the coronavirus for Tokyo and nine prefectures by one month.

The state of emergency, which urges people to refrain from going out and restaurants to shorten business hours, was originally scheduled to be lifted on Sunday but was extended as hospitals remain under pressure despite a declining trend in daily COVID-19 cases.

Japan is also lagging behind many other countries in rolling out vaccines for the deadly virus, with the government aiming to begin inoculating health workers after expected regulatory approval on Feb. 15.

According to the survey, 82.8% of respondents said they are concerned about whether COVID-19 vaccinations will be rolled out smoothly, while 14.7% said they expect a smooth rollout.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party was supported by 36.7% of respondents, falling from 41.2% in the previous poll.

The survey also showed that 62.0% believe Suga has not made sufficient explanations over an allegation that his son, working for a well-known media production company, entertained four communications ministry bureaucrats at posh Tokyo restaurants and gave gifts in a potential ethics code violation.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is investigating the allegation first reported by a weekly magazine earlier in the month.

The survey, covering 703 randomly selected households with eligible voters and 1,326 mobile phone numbers, yielded responses from 510 and 513 people, respectively.

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