POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Mar 7, 2011
TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese foreign minister’s hasty resignation is a blow to Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s already shaky government, but analysts predicted Monday that it would not lead to its immediate collapse.
Kan’s fate, they said, instead likely hinges on whether his government can implement a national budget in coming weeks and months despite opposition plans block it.
Seiji Maehara, who served six months as foreign minister, quit Sunday night after he admitted taking political donations from a foreigner — a 72-year-old Korean who is a permanent resident of Japan and longtime friend — a violation of Japanese law.
“There will be some damage from this, but the Kan administration is already at the edge of cliff with the budget, so if anything a failure on that front will lead to the government’s collapse,” said Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a professor of political science at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.
Maehara’s resignation highlights the high turnover rate that has plagued Tokyo in recent years and is likely to further erode public confidence in Kan, whose public approval rating has fallen below 20 percent.
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.
Gridlock in Japan’s parliament has caused many Japanese to become disillusioned with the government’s inability to tackle serious problems, from a lackluster economy and bulging national debt to an aging, shrinking population.
The budget plan for the fiscal year that starts in April has cleared Japan’s more powerful lower house, but opposition parties are likely to block passage of related bills needed to actually get the funds flowing. If those bills aren’t passed over the next few months, Kan may be forced to resign or call snap elections.
Maehara’s resignation comes as Japan, a key U.S. ally in the Pacific, grows increasingly wary of China’s increased assertiveness in the region, highlighted by a territorial spat last fall over disputed islands that both countries claim. Japan also faces threats from nearby North Korea.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano will temporarily double as foreign minister, and Kan said the change would not affect the country’s international relations.
“Diplomacy is extremely important. We will remain firm,” Kan said during a parliamentary session Monday.
Maehara stepped down after acknowledging he received a total of 250,000 yen ($3,000) over the past several years from a Korean woman who has lived most of her life in Japan. He said they had been friends since his childhood.
An opposition politician raised the allegation late last week. Japanese law prohibits lawmakers from accepting donations from any foreigners, even those born in Japan.
Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa and Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.