Shoichi Nakagawa resigns as Japanese Finance Minister over 'drunken' performance at G7
February 17, 2009 Leo Lewis in Tokyo

Japan’s Finance Minister has fallen on his sword and resigned amid growing public rage over what appeared to be drunken behaviour at last weekend’s G7 summit in Rome.

Shoichi Nakagawa’s resignation, which was accepted with immediate effect today, could not come at a more fragile time for the government of Prime Minister Taro Aso ? a leader who is fast becoming Japan’s most unpopular ever, and who stands accused by the public of dithering on the country’s rapidly deteriorating economic problems.

Mr Nakagawa will be replaced by Kaoru Yosano, the Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister, who has indicated that he would consider additional stimulus measures to rescue the economy.

Mr Nakagawa’s decision to step down came as he faced an opposition-led censure motion, which he would almost certainly have lost, and a rising tide of disgust from within his own party.

Mr Nakagawa, who was sticking today with his excuse that a combination of jetlag and cough mixture got the better of him, initially said that he would stay on until parliament gave the green light to a supplementary budget aimed at steering Japan out of the sharpest recessionary plunge in its history. A few hours later, under a barrage of condemnation, he said that he would depart immediately because of "the atmosphere in parliament”.

A number of politicians have come forward today with anecdotal evidence of Mr Nakagawa's odd behaviour ? he has, for example, been spotted bumping into the doorframes along the corridors of power.

Kenji Yamaoka, the head of the parliamentary affairs committee of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said yesterday that there was "nobody in the Diet [parliament] who did not know" about Mr Nakagawa's fondness for a tipple.

Video footage has also surfaced of an incident in parliament in 2006 when Mr Nakagawa stopped speaking during a speech and stood silent and virtually motionless for about half a minute before sitting down. At the time, he blamed medicine he was taking for back pain.

Monday’s quarterly GDP figures showed Japan’s exports ? the engine of national growth ? sliding at record pace. Tokyo stocks tumbled on the combined miseries of an economy in distress and the lack of a steady rudder in government.

Naomi Fink, a strategist at the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, said that the markets were finally waking up to the political crisis that has put Japanese democracy in its current “leadership nadir”.

She added: “This time the media are not the only ones taking notice; markets have woken up to the realities of Japan’s deteriorating political situation and do not like what they see."

Japanese stocks, which were all but impervious to the largest quarterly decline in growth since the 1970s, had taken notice this time, she said.

In addition to the growing financial turmoil gripping Japan, over the past three years the leadership of the country has changed three times, with countless cabinet reshuffles and resignations in between.

In a hastily convened press conference today, Mr Nakagawa apologised “for causing such a big fuss”. But in what appeared to be confirmation of public and parliamentary suspicions that he was indeed drunk during his Rome press conference, he hinted that may soon hospitalise himself to “prevent myself doing any further damage”.

Rumours regarding Mr Nakagawa’s fondness for alcohol have been swirling in political circles for many years. The former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, said yesterday that he was aware of the Finance Minister’s fondness for a drink and had previously warned him not to overdo things.

“The TV footage was shocking,” Seiko Noda, the Consumer Minister, said. “A Cabinet minister must be fit and he needs more self -control.”













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