Yesterday was an another bad day in the House of Representatives Budget Committee for beleaguered Minister of Defense Tanaka Naoki. Opposition questioners summoned him to the microphone an astonishing 50 times over the course of 3 hours. The minister with the next highest number of questions put to him was Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirano Hirofumi. He answered only 5 questions. (J)
As his stunning lack of knowledge of even the most basic issues of Japanese security and defense has demonstrated, Tanaka Naoki has no business being Minister of Defense. As he has zero credibility in the Diet and in the public eye, he cannot serve as the chief administrator of his ministry. He also cannot serve as a credible representative of Japan in meetings with his international peers.
However, getting rid of Tanaka is rather difficult. A Democratic Party of Japan-dominated House of Representatives will not pass a no-confidence measure against him. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko cannot ask Tanaka for his resignation, as it was only three weeks ago that Noda picked Tanaka for his present post. Tanaka could, on his own, resign -- but that is likely to happen only if Tanaka's wife, the formidable Makiko tells him, "That's it honey. You're done."
The other possibility is that Tanaka would resign or be forced to resign after the passage of a motion of censure against him in the House of Councillors. However, the submission of such a motion is unlikely to happen any time soon. While it is true that Tanaka's predecessor, the equally uninformed Ichikawa Yasuo was censured by the House of Councillors and dropped from the cabinet by Prime Minister Noda, the opposition delayed the passage of the motion of censure to the very last day of the extraordinary Diet session. It was simply too delicious to have the unqualified Ichikawa around, waiting for his next blunder. That Ichikawa learned to keep his head down, not extemporize but instead just read his briefing notes and largely stay out of trouble for much of tenure did not spare him from the censure axe.
What was true for Ichikawa is even more true for Tanaka. Like cats keeping alive the mice they have captured in order to play with them before killing them, the opposition loves having Tanaka around, despite the damage his continued presence will have on morale inside the Ministry of Defense and on the international standing of Japan in defense matters.
While on the subject of censure motions, I would like correct a possibly incorrect impression created by this blog post by Sheila Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations. Historically, successful censure motions are exceedingly rare. As the chart on the Wikipedia page for monseki ketsugi shows, a blizzard of censure motions were submitted to the House of Councillors during the DPJ's time in opposition. However, the House of Councillors has passed a motion of censure only seven times since 1956. Of these, the DPJ is responsible for only three of the successful motions, the first against Minister of Defense Nukaga Fukushiro in 1998 (Nukaga resigned), the second against Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo in 2008 (Fukuda stayed in office) and the third against Prime Minister Aso Taro in 2009 (Aso stayed in office).
Three instances in 11 years, with only one minister resigning as a consequence.
By contrast, the LDP-New Komeito alliance has been responsible for the passage of four motions of censure against cabinet ministers in the 17 months since it seized of control of the House of Councillors. In all four cases, the ministers in question did not survive the subsequent reshuffling of the cabinet.
Tanaka, if he does not resign of his own accord, would clearly be the fifth in the line, except, of course, that the opposition has an incentive to censure Prime Minister Noda first for having appointed the flailing Tanaka to his ministerial post.