April 11, 2019 – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today he will work to regain public trust in his Cabinet a day after his Olympics minister was forced to resign in the wake of remarks he made that were deemed offensive to people in disaster-hit northeastern Japan.
“The whole of our Cabinet will make utmost efforts to regain trust and work toward the recovery (of the disaster-stricken areas),” Abe told reporters.
“We should sincerely accept this criticism. All Cabinet ministers need to take the situation seriously and be even more diligent,” Abe said.
Abe said he has decided to appoint former Olympics minister Shunichi Suzuki, 65, to replace Yoshitaka Sakurada, 69, who came under a barrage of criticism after he said Wednesday that political maneuvering is “more important than the recovery” of the Tohoku region.
The premier expressed hope Suzuki, who was elected from one of the disaster-hit regions, will oversee the delivery of a successful 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Abe’s decision to sack Sakurada is seen as an attempt to head off any negative impact from the gaffe on a series of elections to be held toward this summer.
A deputy land minister Ichiro Tsukada last week stepped down for remarks that suggested he exerted influence on a road project due to it being constructed between the constituencies of Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.
Sakurada was the eighth Cabinet minister to resign under the current administration which began when Abe returned to power in 2012.
At a fundraising party in Tokyo for Hinako Takahashi, a fellow northeastern region lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Sakurada said Takahashi’s re-election is “more important than the (region’s) recovery.” The devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The latest remarks came on top of earlier gaffes that had already prompted opposition parties to step up calls for Sakurada to be ousted.
In February, he said he was “very disappointed” over swimming gold medal hopeful Rikako Ikee’s leukemia diagnosis — a comment criticized for being more focused on the potential absence of star athlete from the Tokyo Games rather than showing empathy for her medical issue.
Sakurada, while attending a parliamentary session, also said he has heard of the Olympic Charter but has never read it.
In November, Sakurada made international news when he admitted he has limited experience with computers despite being in charge of overseeing the country’s anti-hacking preparations for the 2020 Games in his role as the government’s cybersecurity strategy chief.
“Since I was 25 years old and independent, I have instructed my staff and secretaries. I have never used a computer,” he said.