Japan's justice minister quits over gaffe
Japan's justice minister resigned yesterday after his quip that his job was easy sparked howls of outrage and threats of parliamentary stalling tactics from the conservative opposition.
Centre-left Prime Minister Naoto Kan -- whose media poll ratings have dived into the mid 20-percent range -- accepted the resignation of the minister, Minoru Yanagida, who had been on the job for just two months.
Yanagida, 56, sparked the storm when he joked last week that "being justice minister is easy as I only have to remember two phrases, either of which I can use in parliament whenever I'm stuck for an answer".
He told local supporters in Hiroshima prefecture that the two phrases were: "I refrain from commenting on individual cases" and "I am acting appropriately based on the law and evidence."
The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -- which was ousted last year after a half-century reign -- lashed out at the remarks, saying they were insulting to the Diet legislature.
Lawmakers had planned a non-binding but embarrassing censure motion and, more worryingly for the government, had planned to block new economic stimulus measures in the upper house, reports said.
A vote against the bill to help fund a 60 billion dollar stimulus in the upper chamber would delay its passage by at least 30 days, after which the lower house automatically overrides the upper house on budget bills.
Yanagida suggested at a press conference that he didn't have much of a choice other than to resign after Kan had told him that "we have to definitely pass the supplementary budget as soon as possible".
Yanagida became the first minister to step down since Kan reshuffled his cabinet in mid-September, shortly after his re-election as president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
Kan's right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, said he would perform the duties of justice minister for the time being.