Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka resigned Tuesday citing ill health, but the real motivation for his resignation is a scandal in which he was accused of receiving political donations from a company run by a foreign national and of having personal ties with a gangster. He served as a Cabinet minister for just 23 days. Already suffering from dismal popularity ratings and under pressure to call an election, the scandal has dealt yet another blow to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s sagging political fortunes.
It is likely that Mr. Noda gave Mr. Tanaka — who has little experience in justice-related work — the portfolio as a political reward rather than due to his ability to ably serve in that position. Mr. Tanaka is a veteran member of the group of former Democratic Socialist Party Diet members within the Democratic Party of Japan that quickly lined up behind Mr. Noda when he sought re-election as DPJ chief.
According to sources close to the prime minister’s office, prior to his Mr. Tanaka’s selection it was pointed to Mr. Noda that there was a problem with his conduct, but the prime minister still opted to include him in his Cabinet. Some DPJ members think that Mr. Noda gave him the position in hopes that it would prevent any more DPJ Diet members from leaving the party over the consumption tax hike. Mr. Noda’s poor judgement reflects a political culture of carelessness that pervades the DPJ.
On Oct. 4, it surfaced that a political organization headed by Mr. Tanaka had received ¥420,000 in political donations from 2006 to 2009 from a Yokohama firm run by a Chinese national, an act prohibited by the Political Funds Control Law. On Oct. 11, a weekly magazine reported that Mr. Tanaka had attended a wedding of a gangster about 30 years ago. Mr. Tanaka’s excuse was that he didn’t learn till later that the man was a gangster. He also said that he would investigate the political donations, but refused to resign.
Although the opposition called for Mr. Tanaka’s resignation, the Noda government was slow to respond. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on Oct. 12 said that as Mr. Tanaka said he had provided no favors to the gangster, there were no problems. But given his position as justice minister, this response runs counter to common sense. As pressure grew for Mr. Tanaka to resign, he skipped a session of the Upper House Audit Committee on Oct. 18. The following day he missed a Cabinet meeting and checked into a hospital.
Unfortunately for Mr. Noda, his ill-judged decision to make Mr. Tanaka a Cabinet member and his failure to immediately dismiss him after the scandal surfaced have ensured that the damage to his administration won’t end with Mr. Tanaka’s resignation.