Cabinet Minister Resigns, Woman Replaces Him
TOKYO (AP) _ Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu chose a woman to replace a Cabinet minister who resigned Friday in the second sex scandal of a disastrous year for the governing party.
The appointment of Mayumi Moriyama, 61, as chief Cabinet secretary was seen as an attempt to limit the damage caused by Tokuo Yamashita’s resignation from a government formed just 16 days earlier to cleanse the party’s scandal-ridden image.
Mrs. Moriyama is the first woman to be chief Cabinet secretary, and it is the highest government post ever held by a woman in this male-dominated society. She formerly was director of the Environment Agency, also a Cabinet position.
The chief secretary presides over twice-weekly Cabinet meetings, speaks for the government and coordinates policy discussions among ministries.
Yamashita, 69, stepped down after acknowledging a three-year affair with a bar hostess nearly 45 years his junior.
He became the sixth Cabinet member, including Prime Ministers Noboru Takeshita and Sousuke Uno, to resign in less than a year because of an influence-peddling scandal, publicity over illicit sexual liaisons and an election defeat.
A major factor in the election loss last month, which cost the Liberal Democrats their majority in Parliament’s upper house, was outrage by housewives at a 3 percent sales tax the party forced through Parliament last fall.
″Mrs. Moriyama has experience as a housewife as well as a bureaucrat, and can see things from a consumer’s standpoint,″ Kaifu said in announcing the appointment. ″She will be able to include the people’s perspective in policy discussions.″
Takako Doi, the popular woman leader of the newly vigorous Socialist Party, has been the main beneficiary of the public discontent with the governing party. The selection of Mrs. Moriyama was seen as a way to counter Ms. Doi’s impact.
″I am completely speechless,″ Ms. Doi said of Mrs. Moriyama’s appointment. ″I wonder what he thinks women are. It is a reflection of a lack of responsibility of the LDP.″
Ms. Doi’s party was the big winner in the upper house against the conservative Liberal Democrats, who have governed Japan since the party was formed in 1955.
Kaifu became prime minister Aug. 9, when Uno resigned after 69 days in office to take responsibility for the election defeat. Uno also was pursued by allegations that he kept paid mistresses.
Yamashita told a news conference Friday: ″The Kaifu administration had placed cleaning up politics at the head of its agenda and had been entrusted with the hopes of the people. In the end I have decided that I must resign.″
He said he had apologized to his wife, Kyoko, and she had forgiven him.
Mrs. Moriyama, a former bureaucrat in the Labor Ministry, was elected to the upper house in 1980. Kaifu chose her for the Environment Agency, her first Cabinet post, when he formed his government.
Asked whether she expected problems, she told reporters, ″I was just appointed and I can’t really tell what it is going to be like. But as far as my near 40-year professional experience is concerned, I never felt any handicaps from being a woman.″
Setsu Shiga, former deputy to the chief Cabinet secretary, was named to replace her in the environment post.
On Friday, he acknowledged receiving $21,100 in political donations from Recruit Co., the publishing conglomerate at the center of the influence-buying scandal that caused Takeshita to resign June 2.
″I have many financially sound companies who support me,″ Shiga said. ″Recruit back then was regarded as a very financially healthy and growing company. I’ve done nothing wrong.″
Analysts said Yamashita’s resignation would undermine Kaifu’s leadership as he tries to rescue the reputations of the government and party.
″The sex scandal ... will be particularly damaging,″ said political analyst Masaya Ito. ″The clean and progressive image was said to be the only strength for the Kaifu administration, which lacks a strong power base within the party.″
Commentator Soichiro Tawara said of Mrs. Moriyama: ″The appointment is apparently aimed at bettering the image of the government. ... She may be helpful in some ways, but I am not confident that a politician with such limited experience can handle perhaps the most demanding position in the Cabinet.″