Opposition Lawmakers Reduce Cabinet Minister to Tears

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    Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda breaks down into tears after opposition lawmakers demand that he resign:

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has been criticized for its handling of the nuclear crisis. The Ministy is now in deep shit after it came to light that its Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had been encouraging power companies to engage in shady practices that might steer public opinion towards support of nuclear energy:

    Chubu Electric Power Co said it had been asked by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) in 2007 to ensure that a sufficient number of favorable views was represented at a symposium in Shizuoka prefecture, south of Tokyo.

    The ministry surveyed the six of Japan’s nine power companies to have held public forums in the past five years.

    While Chubu eventually decided not to plant questions at the forum, it said it complied with the watchdog’s request to pad the event with its own staff and others posing as participants.

    “I deeply regret the misleading actions which could be interpreted as trying to influence public debate on nuclear power at a government-sponsored event,” Chubu President Akihisa Mizuno said.

    The revelation comes after Kyushu Electric Power Company in southern Japan admitted that a manager asked employees of its affiliates to send email messages in favor of nuclear power to a TV program covering a public forum.

    Trade and energy minister Banri Kaieda, whose ministry oversees NISA, would only say the government will “thoroughly look into past actions,” drawing ire from some citizens’ groups.

    It’s only natural that the power companies would want to mobilize employees and pro-nuclear people to participate in such public events, as anti-nuclear organizations would be doing likewise. Public symposiums, town hall meetings, and call-in television shows are often just for very opinionated people to express their views: normal people, who has better things to do with their time, almost never participate. However, the national government’s nuclear safety agency has no place in such activities.

    Members of the opposition LDP (whose party was in charge of the country back in 2007), have gone on the attack against Kaieda. The video clip of Kaieda crying was from a Diet session on Friday:

    “As head of METI, I feel very sorry if there has been manipulation by the government for a certain opinion to be expressed,” Kaieda said.

    Kaieda has faced increasing pressure as he has tried to navigate between growing hostility over the use of nuclear power and the need to avoid crippling power shortages.

    At one point in parliament, he was visibly upset, with tears in his eyes, when an opposition lawmaker said he should resign.

    It is not normal for a cabinet minister to cry in public when faced with harsh criticism. Kaieda may or may not be to blame for some of the recent problems, but it looks like he’s under so much stress that it could be having an effect on his job performance.

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