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Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshitada Konoike resigned Wednesday “for health reasons.” Clearly behind his resignation was Shukan Shincho weekly magazine’s disclosure, with photos, of his April 28-30 rendezvous with a woman at an Atami resort in Shizuoka Prefecture. For the trip, he used a free JR pass for Diet members to ride Shinkansen trains. He should make a full explanation and formal apology. Prime Minister Taro Aso is also to blame for his careless handling of the matter.

Under the relevant law, Diet members can use the pass only for official duties. Although Mr. Konoike on Thursday compensated JR Tokai for his free rides, his act broke the law. On the very day that the government started adopting full-scale measures to cope with H1N1 influenza, Mr. Konoike and the woman set out on a golfing and dining trip. Although he was not directly in charge of the influenza countermeasures, it is clear that he made light of his duty and responsibility as a key aide to the prime minister. He becomes the fourth politician in the administration of Mr. Aso to resign under pressure.

The attitude that Mr. Aso took in connection with Mr. Konoike’s behavior shows that he does not concern himself much with the behavior of a politician appointed to a high government position. When Shukan Shincho reported in January that Mr. Konoike let a married woman stay overnight in his quarters in the housing facility for Upper House members in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, the prime minister protected him by saying it was a private matter.

When Mr. Konoike resigned, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said the prime minister cannot evade his responsibility for appointing Mr. Konoike as a high-ranking aide. But at first Mr. Aso seemed to dispute this by saying he did not understand why he should take responsibility for appointing a person who resigned for health reasons. It wasn’t until late Thursday evening that Mr. Aso acknowledged his responsibility. His attitude will only deepen suspicion that he makes light of his position and responsibility as the nation’s top leader.

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