LDP minister draws heat for party ahead of Tokyo poll

The opposition accuses Ms Tomomi Inada of deviating from long-held principles of political neutrality for the defence apparatus. The debacle comes as the LDP is facing its stiffest political challenge in years.
The opposition accuses Ms Tomomi Inada of deviating from long-held principles of political neutrality for the defence apparatus. The debacle comes as the LDP is facing its stiffest political challenge in years.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Abe apologises for Inada's remark, which she retracted, implying military support for LDP

Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada has come under fire for implying, in remarks that she has since retracted, that the military supports a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate for Sunday's Tokyo assembly election.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his capacity as LDP president, apologised at a campaign rally last night, noting the harsh criticism the party has received over the comments.

Ms Inada was speaking at a rally on Tuesday in Itabashi ward, near Camp Nerima which is home to Self-Defence Force (SDF) troops, when she appealed for support "as Defence Minister, on behalf of the Defence Ministry, the SDF, and the LDP".

She told reporters after the rally that she hoped to convey her appreciation to residents for their understanding. She retracted her remarks the same evening, saying they could "cause misunderstanding".

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But this has not quieted growing calls for her resignation from the opposition, which accuses her of deviating from long-held principles of political neutrality for the defence apparatus.

Mr Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have both cautioned her for her remarks. Mr Suga told reporters yesterday that Ms Inada has confirmed her belief that government bodies are politically neutral and do not endorse any candidates.

Kobe University defence expert Tosh Minohara told The Straits Times that Ms Inada is a "chink in Mr Abe's political armour", and that the faux pas might lead to her being replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle expected in August.

The latest debacle for the LDP comes as it is facing its stiffest political challenge in years.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, despite being a local poll, is regarded as a bellwether for national political trends.

Senior LDP officials already expect the party's chances to take a hit over a nepotism scandal in which Mr Abe is alleged to have pulled strings for the approval of a veterinary school for Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution), which is run by a close friend.

This comes as there is a growing political force in Tokyo - the upstart Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) party which has the backing of popular Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, who was from the LDP and once professed her own prime ministerial ambitions.

Tomin First has a slight edge over the LDP, according to several media polls last weekend.

Ms Koike, who was Japan's first female defence minister, said on Tuesday that Ms Inada's comments were "inconceivable" and that there should have been "no confusion" over the SDF's position.

The leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Ms Renho, who goes by one name, said Ms Inada's statement "can only mean she has no understanding of what it means to be defence minister".

Kobe University defence expert Tosh Minohara told The Straits Times that Ms Inada is a "chink in Mr Abe's political armour", and that the faux pas might lead to her being replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle expected in August.

He said: "Universally in all democratic countries, the military is apolitical. Her remarks show that she does not understand this fundamental nature of the SDF, and yet she is defence minister."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'LDP minister draws heat for party ahead of Tokyo poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe