Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on Monday retracted comments he made over the weekend in which he appeared to imply that a vote for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a key by-election would be good for the Self-Defense Forces and their families — despite the SDF's strict policy of political neutrality.

At a rally Sunday for the LDP candidate in the Nagasaki No. 4 district Lower House by-election set for Oct. 22, Kihara was quoted as telling supporters in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture: "Supporting the LDP candidate will repay the efforts of the Self-Defense Forces and their families.”

Kihara’s remarks, and most importantly his reference to the SDF, invited criticism, with reporters asking the government’s top spokesman on Monday if this was an attempt to use the SDF for political purposes.