TOKYO — Less than a month after taking office in hopes of restoring public confidence in Japan's ruling party, Prime Minister Sosuke Uno is beset by allegations of misbehavior that threaten his political survival.
On Wednesday, Uno strongly denied widespread reports in the Japanese press that he is considering resigning.
But Uno, a former foreign minister whose political position already was weak when he took the helm of the government on June 2, is clearly facing a struggle to stay in office amid a series of setbacks including new accusations that he had sexual affairs with women whom he treated callously.
As Uno was denying reports he planned to resign, an employee at the prime minister's residence and a party aide told reporters that Uno was put to bed Tuesday night by senior party members staying there to discuss the scandal, according to the Associated Press.
"I thought he might have had a nervous breakdown last night," the aide said.
"The whole thing is he freaked out over how he's going to appear overseas at the (Paris economic summit of industrial nations) next month," he said, according to the AP report. "He's afraid those leaders won't even want to shake hands with him."
Last week, one magazine recounted the tale of a former geisha who said she had been Uno's lover for 10 years before being abruptly abandoned in 1984. Another magazine, citing a former secretary of Uno, reported on his alleged exploits with a woman in the 1960s.
Those stories followed an article published earlier this month in the Sunday Mainichi magazine about Uno's relationship with another former geisha who described the prime minister as vain and rude.
In a reflection of Uno's plunging popularity, leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party agreed this week that the prime minister should spend little time in the next few weeks campaigning on behalf of its candidates in elections for Tokyo municipal posts and the nation's upper legislative house.
The official reason was that Uno needed to prepare for the economic summit, but analysts here scoffed at that explanation.
The developments point to an intensification of political turmoil in Japan in the wake of the influence-peddling scandal surrounding the Recruit Co.
Uno's troubles come at a sensitive time for the ruling party, which has been seriously damaged by the Recruit scandal. Uno's selection followed a lengthy and embarrassing search for a "clean" successor to former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita.
And now, Uno's party is almost certain to face the painful prospect of finding yet another prime minister if, as is widely predicted, the party fares poorly in the upper-house vote scheduled for July 23.
According to Japanese newspapers, Uno told a meeting of top party and government officials Tuesday night that "if things go on like this, I cannot attend the Paris summit" as Japan's representative. The other officials present reportedly dissuaded Uno from quitting.
Uno, however, angrily disputed the accuracy of those reports Wednesday, telling reporters that the stories were "stupid."
He said, "I am not such an irresponsible man" as to resign, citing the summit and his desire to push through a political reform bill as reasons for him to stay in office.