|Maehara was seen as a possible successor to Japan’s current premier, whose rule has been beset by scandals [EPA]|
Naoto Kan, the prime minister of Japan, insisted on Monday that the resignation of the country’s foreign minister would not affect the country’s international relations.
Seiji Maehara resigned Sunday over donations he received from a foreign resident in violation of the country’s laws. He admitted receiving several hundred dollars from a Japanese-born woman of Korean ethnicity, who owns a restaurant.
“I apologise to the Japanese people for stepping down after only six months and provoking distrust over a problem with my political funding, although I have sought to pursue a clean style of politics,” Maehara said.
Kan said Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, would temporarily double as foreign minister as he addressed a parliamentary session on Monday.
“Diplomacy is extremely important. We will remain firm,” Kan said.
The resignation of Maehara highlights the high turnover rate that has plagued government officials in recent years and is likely to further erode public confidence in Kan, whose public approval rating has fallen below 20 per cent.
Kan is the country’s fifth leader in four years, and the 48-year-old Maehara had been seen as a leading candidate to replace him if it was decided a change was the best way to keep their ruling Democratic Party of Japan in power.
Kan is fighting to keep his own job and avoid calling a snap election that his fractious Democratic Party (DPJ) could well lose. He is also struggling to enact budget bills in a divided parliament.
Kan is DPJ’s second prime minister since the party ended half a century of conservative rule in a 2009 landslide.
Maehara had admitted on Friday accepting donations from the restaurant owner who lives in Japan, but said he had done so unknowingly.
The troubles in the DPJ have blocked the passage of bills needed to implement a $1tn budget for the fiscal year starting from April, and Maehara said he had feared his scandal would only worsen the deadlock in Asia’s second-largest economy if he clung to his post.
“The budget deliberation in the upper house for fiscal 2011/12, an urgent issue, is at a crucial stage,” Maehara announced after meeting Kan.
“I cannot let parliamentary deliberations get delayed through my political funding problem.”
String of scandals
Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, reporting from Osaka, said Maehara’s admission of receiving donations from foreigners is “one of the scandals that have hit the DPJ party in recent days.
“Some of the other scandals include the fact that some of the top ministers were reportedly seen in some seedy cafes and bars in Tokyo.
“The party has not lived up to many election promises since coming to power in 2009 and it has been seen as slow-going in terms of tackling major issues like debt.”
The opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has expressed high hopes of retaking power and has challenged Kan to call a snap election it thinks it would win.
The LDP and its allies have also threatened to paralyse the Kan government by using their upper house majority to block bills to finance the record $1tn budget.
This would threaten a government shutdown at a time when the DPJ is seeking to rejuvenate Japan’s $5tn economy, shrink public debt and implement policies to reinvigorate a greying population.
Political and media commentators have predicted in recent weeks that Kan may quit soon, continuing the country’s damaging tradition of revolving-door leadership.