Controversial leader Fumio Kishida may be further weakened by the departure of the interior minister.
Japan’s interior minister has resigned over a funding scandal, making him the third cabinet member to leave in less than a month, a blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s already shaky support.
Kishida’s approval ratings have plummeted since the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July exposed deep and long-standing ties between ruling Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the Unification Churcha group that critics consider to be a cult.
Interior Minister Minoru Terada tendered his resignation to Kishida after media reports emerged that the prime minister was preparing to sack him. Kishida on Monday appointed Takeaki Matsumoto, a former secretary of state, as Terada’s successor.
“The basis of political engagement is public trust,” Kishida told reporters after appointing Matsumoto. “As a politician, I have to secure the public’s trust by bracing myself and inspecting my surroundings.”
A poll conducted over the weekend, before Terada’s resignation, showed that only 30.5 percent of respondents approved of Kishida, down 2.6 points from an October survey, Asahi TV said Monday.
Some 51 percent said they disapproved of the resignation of two previous ministers, Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa and Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi.
Terada, under fire over several funding scandals, has acknowledged that one of its support groups submitted funding documentation purportedly signed by a dead person.
Kishida said he accepted Terada’s resignation to prioritize parliamentary debates, including discussions about a second additional budget for the fiscal year ending in March.
Asked about the fact that three ministers have resigned since October 24, Kishida said he is happy to apologize.
“I feel a heavy responsibility,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Terada’s departure could further weaken the embattled prime minister, whose support rates have hovered at 30 percent in several recent polls, a level that could make it difficult for him to carry out his political agenda.
Having led the LDP to an election victory days after Abe was shot on the campaign trail, Kishida was widely expected to enjoy a “golden three years” with no need for a national election until 2025.
Abe’s suspected killer said his mother was bankrupted by the Unification Church and blamed Abe for promoting the group. The LDP has acknowledged that many legislators have ties to the church, but says it has no organizational ties to the religious group.
A vast majority of voters also approved of Kishida’s decision to have a state funeral for Abewhich took place at the end of September.
Yamagiwa resigned on October 24 due to his ties to the Unification Church, and Kishida came under fire for what voters perceived as his late and clumsy handling of the situation.
Further damage came from the resignation of Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi in mid-November over comments seen as clarifying his job responsibilities, particularly authorizing executions.
Hanashi and Terada’s resignations are likely to be particularly painful for the prime minister, as they were members of Kishida’s faction within the ruling party.