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2009年2月18日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 17(IHT/Asahi: February 18,2009)
EDITORIAL: Odd behavior in Rome


At a news conference in Rome on Saturday, Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa looked groggy and slurred his words as if drunk. His replies to reporters' questions were off the mark from what he had been asked.


Footage of Nakagawa's bizarre behavior circulated around the world. The conference was held after a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.


Given the global recession, the G-7 meeting was particularly significant. Markets around the world were eagerly awaiting word on how the G-7 nations will cooperate and what the financial leaders had to say. But what was the matter with the Japanese finance minister? Many people must have wondered with surprise and disgust.


The images have been replayed repeatedly on TV and the Internet. Foreign media ran pictures of a bleary-eyed Nakagawa with captions to the effect that he appeared to have nodded off.


"I took probably double the required dose of cold medicine in both granules and tablets, which was too much and made me ill," Nakagawa explained later. He insisted he had not been under the influence of alcohol.


The tight schedule of the G-7 conference, coupled with the fact it was held in a different time zone from Japan, would have been grueling for anyone. If this was the reason Nakagawa was under the weather, we certainly can sympathize with him. Still, if he was too unwell to sit through the news conference, he could have delegated the matter to someone else or opted for any number of contingency plans.


We find it hard to believe Nakagawa's claim that his condition had nothing to do with alcohol. As a high-profile politician who has held a series of key Cabinet and Liberal Democratic Party posts to date, his love of liquor is no secret in the political community.


Nakagawa initially claimed, "I drank the night before, but didn't touch a drop before the news conference." He later elaborated, "I enjoyed some wine at lunch," but "I didn't guzzle."


Mixing cold medicine and alcohol can induce a higher level of intoxication, and this could have been what happened to Nakagawa.


When he gave a fiscal policy speech in the Diet last month, he misread his prepared text 26 times. We don't believe his slip-ups then had anything to do with alcohol. But there is no denying that he was sorely lacking in professionalism as a Cabinet member.


The main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) has demanded Nakagawa's dismissal. The party has threatened to propose a censure motion to the opposition-controlled Upper House if its demand is not met.


Prime Minister Taro Aso summoned Nakagawa to his official residence and told him, "I want you to take proper care of your health and continue to fulfill your Cabinet duties."


Were Aso to replace his finance minister in the middle of budget deliberations, it would deal a serious blow to his already-embattled administration, whose approval ratings remain abysmal. But keeping Nakagawa in his post will not make the situation any easier for the Aso Cabinet, either. Should the Upper House pass the censure motion, opposition parties will most likely refuse to debate the budget plan with a censured finance minister and bring Upper House deliberations to a grinding halt.



In that event, the Diet will inevitably be thrown into further confusion, even though the initial budget bill for fiscal 2009 and other bills need to be passed into law quickly. It would be out of the question to start working on the fiscal 2009 supplementary budget bill, which has already been floated by the government and the ruling coalition.


Nakagawa was a staunch backer of the Aso administration at its inception. The price Aso has to pay to protect his ally is anything but small. (Nakagawa resigned Tuesday after a censure motion was submitted).



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