With the rallying cry of “exposing disgraceful behavior,” the DPJ, the SDPJ, the JCP, and the PNP are preparing to submit a (non-binding) censure motion in the upper house.
Mr. Nakagawa will go because his transgressions occurred on the world stage, in full view of the foreign media. While I do not expect it, if Mr. Nakagawa’s conservative comrades were consistent, they would call for his immediate resignation for having defamed the Japanese nation abroad. Indeed, if Mr. Nakagawa was as serious about national pride as his past rhetoric suggests, he would willingly step down. But in lieu of such behavior from Mr. Nakagawa, the DPJ appears more than willing to take up the cudgel of nationalist rhetoric — more often used to criticize leaders “guilty” of traitorous negotiations or apologies — and pressure Mr. Nakagawa and the government. (Yet another reminder that the DPJ, far from being a progressive party, is comfortable with the language of the nationalist mainstream.)
But it appears that Mr. Nakagawa and Prime Minister Aso are digging in; Mr. Aso has asked Mr. Nakagawa to stay on, and Mr. Nakagawa continues to insist that his unusual behavior was the result of taking too much cold medicine combined with pain killers for back pain. The government will, not surprisingly, ignore any censure motion passed by the upper house. It will continue to insist on the “cold medicine” story — Mr. Nakagawa visited a doctor who certified that he has cold symptoms — in the hope that the scandal will go away quickly. Members of the team that traveled with Mr. Nakagawa have been called before the lower house’s fiscal and monetary affairs committee to attest that they do not recall seeing the minister drink during lunch at the G7.
But despite these gestures, it is unlikely that the government will succeed in protecting Mr. Nakagawa for long.
More significant than the opposition calls for Mr. Nakagawa’s head, Yomiuri reports that members of the LDP and Komeito want the finance minister to go. Some fear that a prolonged struggle with the opposition over Mr. Nakagawa’s fate will stall the debate on the 2008 second supplementary budget related bills and the 2009 budget, and are ready to toss the finance minister overboard if it means that debate can resume. Of course, removing the finance minister in the midst of debate over the government’s response to the economic crisis could be equally detrimental to pushing legislation forward, and would no doubt be accompanied by calls for an election from the opposition.
The question of the cause of Mr. Nakagawa’s behavior, however, seems tangential to the debate over Mr. Nakagawa’s future. Whether he was drunk or not, his alcoholism is no longer an open secret — it’s simply open. Following closely on the heels of Mr. Nakagawa’s mistake-prone performance in late January when he gave his policy speech to a joint session of the Diet, when he made a number of errors in presenting his remarks, it is hard to avoid the impression of the finance minister as, in MTC’s word, a “broken” man. Should he be punished for overdosing on cold medicine? No, of course not. But if Mr. Nakagawa’s addiction has become a problem, it is a matter of national concern. For that reason, Mr. Nakagawa’s doctor’s note will not be enough to dispel questions about his behavior. The Japanese people have a right to know the state of Mr. Nakagawa’s health, beyond whether he has the sniffles.
But ultimately it will come down to where Mr. Nakagawa’s indiscretion occurred. By appearing drunk when representing Japan in one of the world’s most exclusive club — membership in which is a point of pride for Japanese elites — Mr. Nakagawa has disgraced his government and his country, an impression that will be reinforced the more video of his performance circulates around the internet and in foreign media. Japanese leaders, always sensitive to how Japan is perceived abroad, may ultimately feel compelled to approve Mr. Nakagawa’s resignation, whatever the consequences for the Aso government.
This scandal reinforces the impression that the Aso government is completely bereft of authority and legitimacy. If it has not become a laughingstock home and abroad already, the Aso government is rapidly becoming one. And yet in the midst of this scandal and his plummeting popularity, Mr. Aso insisted that he is throwing his whole being into fixing Japan’s economy.
Like Beaumarchais’s Figaro, I laugh so as not to cry.