Japan's Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka resigning Tuesday over his past connections to an organized crime syndicate, created a fresh headache for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda who is under increasing pressure to call an early general election.
Tanaka's resignation comes just three weeks after he was appointed Justice Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle and follows revelations he once had close affiliations with known gang leaders.
According to magazine reports, the disgraced minister who tendered and submitted his letter of resignation to Noda earlier today, was a guest at a party hosted by a well-known gang leader about 30 years ago.
In addition Tanaka, 74, acted as a matchmaker at a wedding for a senior member of the mob, but earlier this month, while admitting he knew the individuals, Tanaka denied he knew they had gang affiliations.
Further adding to the scandal surrounding Tanaka, his office admitted following his recent appointment, that his party branch had accepted 420,000 yen (5,300 U.S. dollars) in political donations from a company run by a non-Japanese national.
The political funds control law in Japan strictly prohibits politicians from receiving political donations from foreign nationals, to prevent foreign powers having influence on domestic politics.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Osamu Fujimura, told reporters of Tanaka's official resignation earlier on Tuesday, playing up the discredited minister's recent ill health.
"He has submitted his resignation after having a health examination, it was determined that with his symptoms it as necessary to rest. And while it is regrettable, I have accepted the resignation," the top government spokesperson said.
"He has asked for the publishing company to change what was printed and to retract things," he added.
"In terms of the donations, that is also being properly looked into and investigated. However, I don't believe it's possible to directly link these things and his health problems," Fujimura said, downplaying the incident.
However, Tanaka's scandal has provided opposition parties with further ammunition to unload on Noda as they edge towards forcing the leader to dissolve the lower house and call a snap election.
Some observers have also proffered that the embattled prime minister may be ousted from within his own party as the support rate for his cabinet is so low it may be difficult to dissolve the lower house.
According to recent polls, support for Noda's Cabinet has plummeted to the lowest level since his administration rose to power in September 2011.
The latest survey results published in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper revealed that the public disapproval rate had leapt to 59 percent, with 36 percent of respondents saying they would vote for the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party if a lower house election were to be held now, compared to just 13 percent who said they would chose Noda's Democratic Party of Japan.
The support rate for Noda's Cabinet stood at 23 percent in the Asahi's latest survey released Monday.
"We cannot dissolve the Lower House when the support rate is so low," a senior DPJ official was quoted as saying. "The latest Cabinet reshuffle, on Oct. 1., was a failure," the official added.
Noda's own people could soon find themselves without jobs if his cabinet is forced to resign due to a lack of leadership and his ministers fail to get reelected as opposition ministers following the next general election, in which the DPJ is likely to lose, commentators have said.
"The Cabinet could be forced to resign en masse before Noda can dissolve the Lower House or do anything at all," an aide to Noda was quoted by the Asahi as saying.
Noda, Japan's third leader in as many years, must now grapple with waning public support, divided loyalties from within his own factitious party and vociferous calls from the upper-house controlling opposition bloc to call an early election.
The LDP's Secretary General, Shigeru Ishiba has said that Tanaka simply quitting will not be the end of the matter and accused Noda's Cabinet of being unable to lead a government.
A beleaguered Noda told reporters at his offices earlier Tuesday that he bore full responsibility for Tanaka's blunders, but suggested that he intends to cling on to his position for a while longer.
"I'm responsible as an appointer in terms of the fact that a minister I chose was not able to fulfill his duties," Noda said.
"We, Cabinet members, will carry out our responsibilities by working hard as one," the prime minister said.
Noda has asked Tadamasa Kodaira, the Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, to fill in as justice minister along with his regular duties.