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Defense minister suggests SDF support candidate in Tokyo election

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada suggested Tuesday that the
Self-Defense Forces support a Liberal Democratic Party candidate
running in Sunday's Tokyo metropolitan assembly election, sparking
criticism from opposition lawmakers that her remarks amounted to a
political use of the nation's defense apparatus.

In a stump speech at a campaign rally in Tokyo's Itabashi Ward,
Inada asked voters to cast ballots for her party's candidate, saying
the request came from "the Defense Ministry, the SDF, the defense
minister and the LDP." Hours later, she told reporters she will
"withdraw" the remarks on the grounds they can be "misunderstood."

Inada's original remarks appeared to deviate from the principle
of neutrality expected of an administrative branch. A law governing
the SDF imposes restrictions on the political activities of their

An SDF officer said Inada has given the impression she
"unilaterally used" the SDF even though SDF personnel are not allowed
to make political statements. "I'm afraid people may misunderstand
that all SDF personnel support the LDP," the officer said.

The remarks by Inada, a lawyer-turned-lawmaker, could deal a
fresh blow to the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the
LDP, with both under pressure due to the ruling coalition's handling
of controversial "conspiracy" legislation and allegations that Abe
used his influence to enable the opening of a university department
by an educational group run by a close friend.

Toshio Ogawa, a House of Councillors member from the main
opposition Democratic Party, criticized Inada, telling Kyodo News
that Inada has been using the defense administrative branch
"completely as her own," even though it is supposed to serve the

Questions over her remarks also mounted within the LDP. One
member who used to be a Cabinet minister urged Inada to "immediately"
apologize for her remarks, given that the LDP is waging a close
electoral race with a party led by popular Gov. Yuriko Koike for
control of the metropolitan assembly.

Shortly after making the remarks, Inada told reporters, "I used
such language as part of my efforts to convey my appreciation to
people in the community, but I'm rooting (for the candidate) strictly
as (a member of) the LDP."

Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University,
noted that the Defense Ministry and the SDF are supposed to be
independent of a particular political party or force. "Even though
she's a Cabinet minister, she's supposed to root (for a candidate) in
an election as an LDP member," he said, adding she "went too far"
this time.

The latest controversy follows criticism of the top uniformed
SDF officer after he made comments that could be taken as political.
Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the SDF's Joint Staff, said last
month he would be "very thankful" if the existence of the SDF is
stipulated in the Constitution as recently proposed by the prime
minister. (June 28)

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada leaves her ministry in Tokyo surrounded by reporters on June 28, 2017. Japan's main opposition Democratic Party and three smaller parties the same day demanded Inada's dismissal over a remark that they say amounted to making political use of the Self-Defense Forces.