Photo/IllutrationDefense Minister Tomomi Inada ignores questions from reporters as she enters the Defense Ministry on the morning of June 29. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe brushed aside demands for Defense Minister Tomomi Inada’s dismissal, but jitters are spreading in the ruling party that her latest gaffe could sway voters in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election.

Even Abe appears to have lost some of his swagger.

In a campaign speech he gave on June 28 for a Liberal Democratic Party candidate in the July 2 election, Abe apologized as LDP president, although he did not mention Inada’s comment that sparked the latest outrage.

“We have received a severe scolding from many people puzzled about what the LDP is doing,” Abe said.

On June 27, Inada gave a speech at a campaign rally for an LDP candidate, and said, “I ask for your support on behalf of the Defense Ministry, the Self-Defense Forces, myself and the LDP.”

Although Inada retracted the statement later in the day, four opposition parties were furious at her apparent attempt to use the SDF for political purposes. The parties signed a document demanding Abe dismiss his defense minister.

“Her statement turned the SDF into a private possession and was used in a manner for political purposes,” the document said.

Kazunori Yamanoi, chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee of the opposition Democratic Party, represented the four parties that signed the document and demanded Inada’s dismissal in a meeting with his LDP counterpart, Wataru Takeshita, in the Diet on June 29.

The opposition parties also demanded an early holding of an extraordinary Diet session as well as an out-of-session meeting of the Budget Committees of the two Diet chambers to question Abe about his continued support for Inada.

However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga dismissed calls for Inada’s sacking, saying she should continue to serve in her post in a sincere manner.

Abe has placed Inada in the limelight in his second stint as prime minister that started in December 2012. After naming her as state minister for administrative reform, Abe appointed Inada to the powerful LDP executive post of chairman of the Policy Research Council.

That was followed by the naming of Inada as defense minister in August 2016.

Although some LDP executives said Inada should not have to step down because she retracted the statement, others raised concerns about the effect her comment would have on the metropolitan assembly election.

The LDP is trying to maintain its place as the main force in the metropolitan assembly. However, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has established a local party to oust the LDP as the leading party, and she has enlisted the cooperation of Komeito, the LDP’s partner on the national level.

An LDP loss in the Tokyo election could make it more difficult for Abe to push ahead with his policy objectives, including constitutional revision.