With the ruling parties' overwhelming victory in the Dec14 lower house election having put wind in its sails, the third Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has started.
Although it seems to be getting under way in a stable manner, a money-and-politics scandal is smoldering in the Cabinet even after the replacement of former Defence Minister Akinori Eto, who was embroiled in a political funds scandal.
The Cabinet also has piles of problems to overcome, including measures to boost the flagging economy and preparing the legal framework to allow the nation to exercise the right of collective self-defence in limited situations.
The change of the defence minister came from Eto's strong intention to resign, according to sources.
"I can't cause trouble with my scandal over political funds while I am assigned to be engaged in the historical security legislation." Visiting Abe in mid-December, Eto opened up his talk with such a phrase. He timed the revelation of his intention for shortly after the latest election.
At the extraordinary Diet session held in September shortly after he assumed the post, Eto was severely questioned by opposition parties about a scandal in which he reportedly revised the political funds reports of his funds management organisation.
It was easy to imagine Eto would be barraged with questions again at an ordinary Diet session to be convened at the beginning of the next year.
The prime minister tried to persuade him to stay in his post, saying, "It should be fine."
Nevertheless, Eto's decision to resign was firm, according to sources.
Some opposition party members claim that Eto's resignation was the third example of a replacement regarding a money-and-politics scandal, following the double resignations of Justice Minister Midori Matsushima and Economy, and Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi.
"The Cabinet is failing from the start," said Yukio Edano, secretary general of the major opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
Troubles other than Eto's
A middle-ranking lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said the administration now has fewer reasons to be questioned by opposition parties because Eto, who was under fire for his money scandal, has left the Cabinet. But there are still some within the LDP who are embroiled in such scandals.
Opposition parties have not yet given up grilling the LDP over the matter of a funds management organisation of Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa having spent some political funds at a Hiroshima bar that puts on sadomasochistic shows, and over the failure of a political funds organisation related to Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki to correctly record some spending in its political funds reports.
Also, concerning Obuchi's political funds scandal, a detailed explanation has not yet been given, as an investigation by a third-party panel is ongoing, in addition to one by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation squad.
Losing many seats in the latest lower house election, the DPJ is seeking a way to launch an offensive after its presidential election scheduled in January next year. It seems inevitable for the LDP to face tougher grilling on money scandals by opposition parties at the ordinary Diet planned to be convened on Jan 26.
After the landslide victory in the lower house election, Abe worries about carelessness among party members and has repeatedly said, "Without becoming swellheaded, I will more carefully manage the administration."
However, even some of his party members are unhappy about politics being even more strongly initiated by the Prime Minister's Office, as seen in such factors as the compilation of economic measures and the outline of tax system reforms being brought forward by Abe's intention.
Eto's exit from the ministerial post could have some impacts on the deliberation of the security-related legislation, which is expected to be the largest point of contention to be handled at an ordinary Diet session in 2015. New Defence Minister Gen Nakatani also assumes the post of state minister in charge of security legislation. Nakatani is required to answer questions in Diet deliberations based on various government views expressed in the past.
As a National Defence Academy graduate, Nakatani is said to be well-versed in security policy. But there are still some concerns. As a Defence Ministry senior official said, "I wonder if he could bear grilling in various ways by opposition parties."