Kishida replaces Justice Minister Hanashi following death penalty gaffe

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi speaks to reporters after submitting a resignation letter at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Friday.

Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi submitted a letter of resignation to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday, and Kishida accepted his resignation. Hanashi had made controversial remarks appearing to make light of his duties related to executions of death-row inmates, according to sources.

Ken Saito, 63, has been picked as the next justice minister, Kishida announced on Friday evening.

“It is regrettable that the situation has come to the point of resignation,” Kishida told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office. “I seriously felt my responsibility for the appointment.”

Kishida added, “After the plenary session of the House of Councillors, [Hanashi] offered me his resignation, and I accepted it, considering the weight and impact of his comment.”

Saito has been elected five times to the House of Representatives in Chiba’s No. 7 Constituency. He has also served as the agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister in the past.

In relation to this issue, Kishida has postponed his departure for a trip to the three Southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand on a government plane that was scheduled for Friday afternoon. Kishida said he would depart for Phnom Penh early Saturday.

Kishida had been scheduled to arrive in Phnom Penh on Friday to attend summits in connection with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Cambodian capital on Saturday.

Hanashi is the second Kishida Cabinet member to resign since the start of the Cabinet, following former Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa on Oct. 24. A series of Cabinet member resignations is sure to deal a blow to Kishida’s handling of his administration as the Cabinet approval rating plummets.

Hanashi, 63, a House of Representative lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who has been elected six times in Ibaraki Constituency No. 3, told a political gathering for LDP lawmakers in Tokyo on Wednesday, “Justice minister is an obscure role that only makes headlines in the news after [an order to execute] a death penalty has been stamped in the morning.”

Moreover, Hanashi had also said that his number of TV appearances had increased in connection to his being in charge of helping victims of the Unification Church (formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification).

In response to his remarks, some in the government and ruling parties said that it would be difficult for Hanashi to continue in his ministerial job and he should step down as soon as possible.

During a House of Councillors plenary session on Friday morning, Kishida had expressed his intention to retain Hanashi in the Cabinet, saying, “He must renew his awareness of the heavy responsibility of his duty and offer thorough accountability on the issue.”

In the end, Kishida is believed to have had to replace Hanashi, considering the lingering criticism of Hanashi’s gaffe within the government and ruling parties and the impact on the future Diet schedule, among other factors.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Kishida on Friday, Hanashi explained the reason for his resignation by saying: “I used the term ‘death penalty’ too lightly. I have caused discomfort among the public and affected the Diet schedule.”

Hanashi, a former National Police Agency bureaucrat, was first elected to the lower house in 2003. He is a member of the LDP’s Kishida faction led by Kishida. He joined the second Kishida Cabinet for the first time after the reshuffle in August.