05/29/2007, 00.00
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Matsuoka’s suicide opens Abe’s era of political crises

by Takeshi Kijima
With the death of the Niponic Minister for Agriculture, Shinzo Abe’s government has put itself at a net disadvantage as the population prepare to vote for a new Senate. The press attacks the prime minister and demands clarification over his political support for the suicide victim, accused of corruption.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The suicide of the 62 year old Japanese Minister for Agriculture Toshikatsu Matsuoka, announces the first political crises of the Shinzo Abe era.  The suicide victim was in fact a close collaborator of the premier, who deeply desired him within his executive despite the shadows surrounding his previous posts and the accusations of corruption which tailed him since he was nominated to the office.


The politician hung himself just hours before a Japanese Senate Commission hearing, called on the back of investigations into his economic management of the ministry.  Abe had always defended him, and he even came down on Matsuoka’s side when he declared that discrepancies within ministerial accounts were due to “a special brand of mineral water costing 60 euros a litre”.


The Japan Times, one of the most widely read papers in the land of the rising sun, maintains that “the suicide which took place within a parliamentary residence in the capital, will probably cement the opinion of those who believe him guilty, while at the same time it eliminates one of the oppositions principal targets”.


The fact remains that within a few weeks the government will be called to one of its biggest political tests to date, that is the re-election of over half of the Senate seats.  Matsuoka’s death will be used during the oncoming press campaign as a formidable weapon by the Japanese Democrat Party, which is considered to be the main castigator of the country’s political misbehaviour.


The economic daily Nikkei poses the question “what kind of impact will the suicide of a politician so close to elections have on voters: they will ask whether the prime ministers actions are appropriate, and why Matsuoka was supported right to the end by the leadership”.


On the other hand, the prime minister has taken on responsibility for the suicide, if somewhat indirectly: “As prime minister, I nominated the Minister for Agriculture, and now I feel responsible for the actions he took as a member of my Cabinet”.


Yesterday’s was the first suicide by a member of government since the end of the Second World War, when the then war minister Koreichika Anami killed himself after Japan conceded defeat, but it is the seventh among members of the post war Diet.


Japanese culture does not encourage suicide: it simply does not make it a taboo.  If the suicide is carried out in an honourable way, a person who finds themselves in difficulty sees it as an easy way out, a way to a clear conscience.  One of the publishing successes of 1993, with 635 thousand copies sold was “Kanzen jisatsu manyuaru” (The complete Manuel for suicide) by Tsurumi Wataru. In the text the author classifies the methods, based on pain, effort and conditions of the body after death: hanging is considered the most “artistic” method.


In recent years, for the first time, the government defined suicide (which is covered by national insurers) as “a serious problem” and seems intent on intervening: since January 2002 the Ministry for Work has distributed a 38 page booklet to companies, in order to identify and help workers with suicidal tendencies.  These measures however seem insufficient, given that suicide remains one of the principal causes of death in Japan.


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