Japan’s interior minister resigned on Sunday amid a funding scandal, becoming the third cabinet member to quit in less than a month, severely affecting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s already shaky support.
Kishida’s approval ratings have fallen since the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July revealed deep and long-standing ties between ruling Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the Unification Church, a group critics say is a cult.
Interior Minister Minoru Terada submitted Kishida’s resignation after media reports that the prime minister was preparing to fire him. Kishida on Monday named former Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto as Terada’s successor.
“The foundation of political commitment is public trust,” Kishida told reporters after Matsumoto’s appointment. “As a politician, I have to ensure public trust by strengthening and controlling my surroundings.”
A poll conducted the weekend before Terada resigned found only 30.5 percent of respondents approved of Kishida, down 2.6 points from an October poll, Asahi TV said Monday.
Just over half, 51%, disapproved of his handling of the resignations of two previous ministers, Economic Recovery Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa and Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi.
Terada, who is accused of several funding scandals, has admitted that one of his support groups had submitted funding documents purporting to be signed by a dead person.
Kishida said he accepted Terada’s resignation to prioritize parliamentary debates, including discussions on the second supplementary budget for the fiscal year that ends in March.
Asked about the resignation of three ministers since October 24, Kishida said he would like to apologize.
“I feel a heavy responsibility,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Terada’s departure could further weaken the embattled prime minister, whose approval ratings have remained below 30% in several recent opinion polls, making it more difficult for him to pursue his political agenda.
After leading the LDP to an election victory days after Abe was shot down on the campaign trail, Kishida was widely expected to have a “golden three years” without national elections until 2025.
Abe’s suspected killer said the Unification Church had bankrupted his mother and blamed Abe for abetting it. The LDP has acknowledged that many lawmakers have ties to the church, but no organizational ties to the party.
A large majority of voters also rejected Kishida’s decision to hold Abe’s state funeral in late September.
Yamagiwa resigned on October 24 due to his ties to a religious group, and Kishida was criticized for what voters saw as his late and clumsy handling of the situation.
Adding to the damage was the resignation of Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi in mid-November over comments that were seen as a dereliction of duty, particularly the signing of the death sentence.
The resignations of Hanashi and Terada are likely to be particularly painful as they were members of the Kishida faction in the LDP.
Reporting by Elaine Lies and Kantaro Komiya; Edited by Jerry Doyle and Stephen Coates
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