Two of Japan’s new female cabinet ministers, appointed just last month as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to let women “shine”” resigned their posts Monday amid allegations of financial impropriety.
Their departures undermine Abe’s efforts to lead by example when it comes to promoting working women and they cast a dark cloud over his administration at a difficult time. The prime minister’s “Abenomics” plan to revive the economy looks to be fizzling out, and he must decide within the next few months whether to press ahead with a hugely unpopular rise in the consumption tax.
“I apologize to all citizens for what happened,” Abe told reporters outside his office on Monday afternoon as the two ministers — trade and industry minister Yuko Obuchi, and justice minister Midori Matsushima — resigned within hours of each other.
“Many difficult tasks are piling up so no delay is allowed,” Abe said, vowing to quickly select replacements “who can meet people’s trust”.
The situation is the biggest setback to Abe since he returned to the premiership almost two years ago. “The fact that Abe was putting so much emphasis on women makes it even harder for him,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.
The first minister to fall on Monday was Obuchi, a 40-year-old mother of two young children and daughter of a former prime minister, who was widely touted as “Japan’s first female prime minister”. Abe promoted her to lead the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), making her one of five women in the newly reshuffled cabinet.
With Japan’s labor force aging and shrinking, Abe has presented women, who often stop working once they get married, as critical to hoisting Japan out of its decades of economic stagnation. He has made ‘womenomics’ a key part of his strategy to revive Japan’s economy through structural reforms.