Questions remain as to why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed Yoshitaka Sakurada as Olympics minister in October last year, and why he took more than six months to dismiss the gaffe-prone Cabinet member.
Abe admitted that he was responsible for appointing Sakurada to his Cabinet, but the dismissal came too late.
The sacking of Sakurada was prompted by the minister’s remarks at a fundraising party for Hinako Takahashi, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of the House of Representatives. Sakurada suggested that efforts to secure Takahashi’s re-election should be prioritized over restoration of areas hit by the 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. “Ms. Takahashi is more important than restoration. Please extend your assistance,” he told the gathering in Tokyo on April 10.
Sakurada was obviously attempting to flatter Takahashi. However, he apparently failed to consider how those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake would feel about such a remark.
The government characterizes the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 as events to support recovery from the triple disasters that hit eastern and northeastern Japan in March 2011.
The remark shows that Sakurada, a Cabinet minister responsible for the Tokyo Games, did not even understand the significance of holding the event.
Sakurada earlier came under fire for saying he was “disappointed” when top Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee announced she was suffering from leukemia. Recalling this gaffe during a speech at the April 10 party, he jokingly said, “For me, the word ‘disappointed’ is a taboo word.” His comments leave us dumbfounded.
Sakurada also repeatedly mispronounced the names of people and places, as well as the amount of budget funds allocated for policy measures, and made remarks that show he badly lacked knowledge of cybersecurity despite being the minister in charge of this field. Bureaucrats often extended a helping hand to Sakurada when the minister was unable to answer questions in Diet deliberations. Members of the public have often witnessed such scenes since he assumed his position in October 2018.
Nevertheless, the prime minister stopped short of sacking Sakurada until recently. Abe apparently feared that the dismissal of Sakurada would spark questions over why Finance Minister Taro Aso had not resigned over his ministry’s doctoring of documents on the heavily discounted sale of land to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator previously linked to Abe’s wife — possibly leading to the resignation of more members of his Cabinet.
Many members of the public have sneered at Sakurada, who repeated incoherent and inconsistent statements in Diet deliberations. They questioned whether he was qualified to serve as a Cabinet minister, deepening the public’s distrust in politics. Sakurada’s responsibility for that is serious.
When he reshuffled his Cabinet in autumn last year, Prime Minister Abe said he appointed the right people to the right positions. However, with the exception of key positions, he actually appointed legislators recommended by intraparty factions to many Cabinet posts, including Sakurada. Until now, the prime minister had not held Cabinet members responsible for problems they were involved in, contributing to looseness within his administration.
The dismissal of Sakurada came shortly after state land minister Ichiro Tsukada stepped down for his remarks that could be construed as influence-peddling regarding a road construction project connecting the home prefectures of Abe and Aso. The prime minister has repeatedly pointed to the need for officials to keep on their toes. However, the looseness of his administration has reached an alarming level.