Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's already shaky government was rocked Tuesday by the sudden resignation of his finance minister over allegations he appeared drunk after a recent summit.
Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, who has denied being drunk, offered his resignation late Tuesday after earlier in the day saying he would stay on until after parliament approves a supplementary budget, probably in late April.
Nakagawa's resignation was accepted.
"I have resigned," Nakagawa said. "I decided that it would be better for the country if I quit."
The resignation was a huge embarrassment for Aso, who the day before had asked Nakagawa to stay on. Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano will assume Nakagawa's duties, Kyodo News agency reported.
"I apologize for causing such a big fuss," Nakagawa said.
Nakagawa has been under fire over allegations he appeared to be drunk at a news conference following the G-7 finance ministers meeting in Rome over the weekend. TV footage showed him slurring his speech and looking drowsy and confused.
Nakagawa has said he took cold medicine, which, along with the jet lag, made him groggy.
His abrupt announcement, coming as Tokyo hosted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was seen as an attempt at damage control, but some analysts said they expect the situation to get tougher for Aso in the weeks ahead.
"The scandal was so humiliating that Nakagawa's resignation will not be enough," said political analyst Minoru Morita. "The opposition will now shift their target to Aso, pushing him deeper into the corner."
Opposition lawmakers had lodged a censure motion against Nakagawa and demanded he quit immediately.
'TV footage was shocking'
Pressure for Nakagawa's resignation was growing within Aso's Cabinet as well.
"The TV footage was shocking," Consumer Minister Seiko Noda said. "A Cabinet minister must be fit and he needs more self control."
Along with a moribund economy and increasing joblessness, the scandal was the latest in a series of embarrassments that have plagued Aso, who has been in office only since late September.
Aso's support ratings fell into the single digits in a recent poll, increasing speculation Aso's days might be numbered.
Elections must be held by the end of September, but can be called at any time.
Several polls suggest that the opposition has a good shot at winning if elections are held soon, although the Liberal Democrats have controlled the government for virtually all of the past 54 years.
"If elections were held right now, the opposition would win," said Takao Toshikawa, another political analyst.
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