Japan has a new prime minister but its ruling Liberal Democratic Party appears to be following the same farcical comedy script that has reduced the nation’s political leaders to figures of fun.
Just one day after turning to the tough-talking nationalist Taro Aso to steer it from the brink of electoral catastrophe, the LDP was again mired in controversy.
The new minister for tourism and transport, Nariaki Nakayama, told reporters on Thursday that Japanese people were “ethnically homogenous” and “definitely … do not like or desire foreigners”.
The 65-year-old former education minister also reportedly called Nikkyoso, the country’s largest union of school teachers and staff, “a cancer for Japan’s education system” and later said he would happily resign rather than retract the comment.
Yesterday the hardline conservative made good on his threat. Soon after tendering his resignation to Mr Aso, he said he had stepped down to ensure the issue did not attract negative attention to his embattled party.
But the latest blunder has already drawn condemnation from both sides of the political divide, and from Japan’s Ainu indigenous people in particular.
The secretary-general of the LDP, Hiroyuki Hosoda, admitted Mr Aso “bears responsibility” for the ministerial appointment.
The timing could not be worse for Mr Aso. Polls show support for his new cabinet has fallen short of 50 per cent, which casts doubts on his ability to lead the LDP to victory in an early general election tipped for November.
His predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda, lasted barely a year in the job before resigning in the face of terminally low public approval ratings. Mr Abe presided over frequent ministerial scandals and gaffes, which brought down four members of his cabinet and prompted another to commit suicide.
Political analysts say Mr Aso represents more of the same for Japan, which has a public debt of about 170 per cent of its gross domestic product and which is on the brink of recession.