TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s home affairs minister resigned on Sunday over a financing scandal, becoming the third cabinet member to leave office in less than a month, in a major blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s already shaky support.
Kishida’s popularity plummeted after 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 Church, a group whose critics say it is a sect.
Home Affairs Minister Minoru Terada tendered his resignation to Kishida after media reports that the prime minister was preparing to dismiss him. Kishida on Monday appointed Takaaki Matsumoto, the former foreign minister, to succeed Terada.
“The foundation of political commitment is public trust,” Kishida told reporters after Matsumoto’s appointment. “As a politician, I must maintain the confidence of the public by fortifying and losing my surroundings.”
A poll conducted over the weekend, before Terada’s resignation, found that only 30.5% of respondents approved of Kishida, TV Asahi said Monday, down 2.6 points from a poll in October.
Just over half, 51%, disapproved of the way he handled the resignations of two previous ministers, Economic Revitalization Minister Daichiro Yamagiwa and Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi.
Terada, who has come under fire for several funding scandals, admitted that one of his support groups provided funding documents that appeared to be signed by a dead person.
Kishida said he accepted Terada’s resignation in order to prioritize parliamentary debate, including discussions on 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 would like to apologize.
“I feel a huge responsibility,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Terada’s departure could weaken the embattled prime minister, whose support ratings have remained below 30% in several recent polls, a level that could make it difficult for him to implement his political agenda.
After leading the LDP to election victory days after Abe was shot dead while campaigning, Kishida was widely expected to enjoy a “three golden years” without the need for national elections until 2025.
Abe’s suspected killer said his mother was bankrupted by the Unification Church and blamed Abe for promoting it. The LDP has acknowledged that many lawmakers have connections to the church but no organizational connection to the party.
The vast majority of voters also opposed Kishida’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe at the end of September.
Yamagiwa resigned on October 24 due to his links to the religious group, and Kishida was criticized for what voters saw as a delay and clumsiness in handling the situation.
Further damage came from the resignation of Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi in mid-November over comments seen as dimming his job responsibilities, specifically signing off on executions.
The resignations of Hanashi and Terada are likely to be particularly painful since they were members of the Kishida faction of the LDP.
(Reporting by Eileen Lies and Kantaro Cumiya); Editing by Jerry Doyle and Stephen Coates
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