Japanese PM Kishida replaces four Cabinet ministers linked to ‘slush funds’ scandal

Japanese PM Fumio Kishida
Image Source : AP Japanese PM Fumio Kishida

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday replaced four of his Cabinet ministers linked to ‘slush fund’ allegations that have damaged his party’s reputation and his authority within. The development came after a no-confidence vote against Kishida was rejected as support ratings of his Cabinet continued to drop to new lows.

The allegations that some lawmakers received thousands of dollars in unreported funds pose the biggest political challenge to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) since it reclaimed its long-held grip on power in 2012. This shakeup is Kishida’s third since he became PM. 

Dozens of LDP lawmakers are suspected of systematically failing to report about 500 million yen ($3.53 million) in funds in possible violation of campaign and election laws. The accused belong to the LDP’s biggest and most powerful Seiwa-kai faction which prosecutors have investigated for allegedly hiding hundreds of millions of yen of political funds over five years.

The four ministers are Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Agriculture Minister Ichiro Miyashita and Internal Affairs Minister Junji Suzuki. Additionally, seven vice ministers and aides belonging to the Abe group have also tendered resignations, while three lawmakers quit their top LDP posts.

A purge of members from that wing of the party, which used to be led by slain former PM Shinzo Abe, is key to Kishida’s balancing act within the party but could trigger a power struggle. Although Kishida doesn’t have to call a parliamentary election until 2025, but the LDP has a leadership vote in September.

A major Cabinet shakeup

Matsuno on Thursday said that he had submitted his resignation to the Japanese PM in response to the fundraising allegations, which he said “have shaken the public trust in politics”. He further said submitted resignations on behalf of three other ministers and one of Kishida’s aides.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who belongs to Kishida’s party faction, was named to replace Matsuno’s role as the prime minister’s right-hand person in the Cabinet. Former Justice Minister Ken Saito was given the role of economy minister. 

Kishida is reportedly deciding on their replacements within the next few days rather than removing them altogether to cushion the damage to his party. This came after reports suggested that the unreported money had gone into unmonitored slush funds.

Collecting proceeds from party events and paying kickbacks to lawmakers are not illegal if recorded appropriately under the political funds’ law. Violations are likely to result in imprisonment of up to five years in prison and fines of up to 1 million yen ($7,065).

Public approval of Kishida’s administration

Earlier, a poll conducted over the weekend saw public approval for Kishida’s administration hit a record low, while media on Monday reported the main opposition party was preparing a no-confidence motion against top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno, the highest profile minister implicated in the scandal.

The removal of Matsuno, Nishimura, Suzuki and Miyashita was already reported along with deputies and parliamentary secretaries. “We’ll consider appropriate measures at the right time to restore public trust and prevent delays in national politics,” Kishida told reporters earlier this week as speculations grew.

An uphill battle for Kishida

The scandal could stir up a power struggle inside the party that could influence the outcome of the leadership contest and the party’s management. Kishida, who took office in October 2021, has seen his cabinet’s approval rating slide in recent months, mainly over voter worries about rising living costs and looming tax hikes to fund his bumper military build-up plans.

However, he survived his first no-confidence motion filed by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan on Wednesday, which was rejected by the House of Representatives. The lower chamber of the Japanese Parliament is controlled by the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito.

A Fuji News Network-Sankei poll released on Monday showed his administration’s popularity sink to a record low of 22.5%, down 5.3 percentage points from the previous month. About 46% of responders in the survey said they want Kishida to stay in power until his tenure as LDP leader expires in September, while about 41% want him replaced immediately.

(with inputs from AP)

Latest World News