In his waning days as education minister, Masahiko Shibayama was harshly criticized for questioning whether it was appropriate for senior high school students to discuss politics during their lunch breaks.

The ruckus kicked off on social networking sites after a self-described third-year student in senior high school posted a tweet saying discussions over lunch often touched upon the problems of the current Abe administration.

In response, Shibayama sent a tweet Sept. 8 asking, "Is such activity appropriate?"

That prompted a storm of online criticism with people asking what was wrong about senior high school students discussing politics.

Shibayama felt compelled to explain at a Sept. 10 news conference that he never intended to restrict political discussion among high school students.

The Twitter exchange was triggered by a post by Shibayama announcing that Eiken Foundation of Japan, which provides the Test in Practical English Proficiency, had been selected to manage the English test portion for common university entrance exams to be given from the 2020 school year.

That led the third-year senior high school student and another individual, apparently a teacher, to send several tweets expressing their annoyance.

In one post, the teacher encouraged the student to call on classmates and friends to refrain from voting for the Abe administration in elections.

The student tweeted: "At the last Upper House election, we talked over lunch about politics so I am confident that they will vote after carefully thinking about the matter. Of course, we also often talked about the problems associated with the current administration. Laugh."

After Shibayama's Sept. 8 tweet, the student asked him in another tweet, "Is it wrong for senior high school students having lunch with friends to talk about what part of the administration is bad and what aspects of a certain party are bad?"

Shibayama didn't respond.

Another person tweeted, "Does he think it is preferable to have senior high school students who do not discuss politics?"

On Sept. 9, Shibayama tweeted: "I am not opposed to students discussing current topics in the news. But the law prohibits election activities among minors that may have a certain political bias."

The Public Offices Election Law was revised in 2015 to lower the voting age to 18, making millions of young people eligible to vote for the first time.

Other posts touched upon that point. One tweet asked, "Do they want to say to senior high school students, 'Vote, but we will not allow you to criticize the administration?'"

At the news conference, Shibayama explained that the teacher's tweet encouraging people not to vote for the Abe administration was a violation of the Fundamental Law of Education and the Public Offices Election Law.

He said his initial tweet reflected his concern that the senior high school student might have acted based on the tweet that violated the Fundamental Law of Education.

Jun Katagi, a lawyer who once headed the Election Department of the former Home Affairs Ministry, said, "The student's tweet was level-headed and does not constitute election activity with the objective of having a certain candidate win in a certain election."

Taking issue with Shibayama's tweet, he said the education minister, instead of raising doubts by referring to the teacher's tweet, should have embraced the promotion of "free discussions among senior high school students, including views that may be opposed to the administration."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Sept. 11, appointing Koichi Hagiuda as education minister.