TOKYO — Japan's main opposition party called for the new defence minister to resign on Saturday for referring to himself as an amateur shortly before he took office, but there was a poll boost for the new premier.
Yasuo Ichikawa told Japanese media just before his formal appointment to the defence brief: "I am an amateur concerning security", comments that the opposition Liberal-Democratic Party said proved he was not qualified for the job.
"For that comment alone he deserves to be discharged from his ministerial post," said LDP policy chief Shigeru Ishiba, a former defence minister.
He said the wisdom of new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in appointing Ichikawa was also "put into question".
But there was better news for Noda as Kyodo news agency reported a public approval rating of 62.8 percent on Saturday, compared with 15.8 percent for his predecessor Naoto Kan in late August.
The cabinet announced on Friday by Noda, Japan's sixth new leader in five years, featured untested talent in key posts including the finance and foreign ministries.
Ichikawa, 69, who worked in the farm ministry for 25 years before entering politics, said his comment had been misinterpreted.
"I meant to say that most of the people are amateurs and it is important to pursue security policies from the people's viewpoint," he said late Friday.
But the controversy refused to go away on Saturday, with LDP policy expert Ichita Yamamoto joining calls for Ichikawa to quit as soon as possible.
"We feel very anxious leaving Japan's national defence to a person with such an attitude," Yamamoto said.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan have been at odds with the United States over a huge US military presence in Okinawa since it ended the LDP's long domination of Japanese politics in 2009.
Noda's two predecessors have failed to resolve the issue with the key ally due to Okinawa islanders' resistance to the planned transfer of a US Marine Corps air station from a growing urban area to a scenic stretch of shore.
Major newspapers on Saturday noted that Finance Minister Jun Azumi, 49, and Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, 47, are "unknown quantities" with little experience in the fields related to their jobs.
But they also commended Noda for allocating cabinet posts to strike a balance among quarrelling factions within his party.
The business daily Nikkei said the line-up "emphasised a balance of power" after a leadership battle between supporters and enemies of veteran powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, who has been indicted in a political funding scandal.
Two members from Ozawa's group joined the cabinet.
"There is no room for futile confrontation within the party," the daily said, citing crucial issues such as the recovery from the March earthquake and tsunami, emergency at the disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant and economic strife.
The influential Asahi Shimbun said Noda, a former finance minister, may have proven his reputation as a "candidate from within the finance ministry" by appointing two figures close to the ministry in his cabinet.
The appointments showed the Noda government's readiness to follow the finance ministry's drive for tax increases to solve the public debt problem, Asahi said.Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved. More »