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G7 drink row adds to Japan government woes
Japan’s finance minister denies he was drunk at a G7 news conference but opposition lawmakers sense blood in the water and are demanding he be fired, adding yet more pressure on a deeply unpopular government that faces an election this year.
The story is the Internet phenomenon of the day in Japan as TV stations and newspapers issued stories calling attention to Shoichi Nakagawa’s behaviour at the news conference at the G7 gathering in Rome over the weekend.
In Japan, at least, the question of what was wrong with Nakagawa when he appeared in front of the media has completely overshadowed the issue of the financial crisis.
His speech sounded slurred at the media conference and at one point Nakagawa, his head down and eyes closed, mistook a question directed at the BOJ governor as one for him.
The embattled minister attributed his behaviour to having taken too much medicine, including cold medicine and said he had only sipped wine at lunch, ahead of the news conference.
“It is a fact that I didn’t conduct myself clearly, and I feel I must put it straight,” Nakagawa told reporters on his return to Tokyo. “I did not drink a glassful.”
Nakagawa has put his fate in the hands of his boss, Prime Minister Taro Aso, who appointed him in September last year.
It is one more headache that Aso does not need.
A former prime minister, the still popular Junichiro Koizumi, rebuked Aso last week for policy flip-flops and a poll at the weekend showed voter support for the government has fallen to 9.7 percent as the recession deepens.
New figures show the economy contracting at its fastest rate since the first Middle East oil crisis in 1974.
Keep Nakagawa or lose him, it seems Aso cannot win either way.
“Losing someone in charge of the financial system and public finances at this juncture … is potentially lethal for his (Aso’s) own tenure,” says Koichi Nakano, a Sophia University political science professor.
And if Nakagawa stays? “It will add to the impression that Aso is well past his expiration date.”
Photo credit: Nakagawa at a news conference after the G7 finance ministers meeting in Rome February 14, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Helgren