TOKYO, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Japan’s home affairs minister resigned on Sunday in connection with a funding scandal, becoming the third cabinet member to leave in less than a month, dealing a blow to already shaky support for the Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Kishida’s approval ratings have plunged after the July assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe revealed deep and long-standing ties between ruling Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the Unification Church, a group critics say is a sect.
Internal Affairs Minister Minoru Terada tendered his resignation to Kishida after media reports that the prime minister was preparing to fire him. Kishida appointed Takeaki Matsumoto, a former foreign minister, to succeed Terada on Monday.
“The basis of political commitment is public trust,” Kishida told reporters after naming Matsumoto. “As a politician I must ensure public trust by strengthening and inspecting my environment.”
A poll conducted over the weekend, before Terada’s resignation, found just 30.5% of those polled approved of Kishida, down 2.6 points from a poll in October, Asahi TV said on Monday.
Just over half, 51%, disapproved of how he had handled the resignation of two previous ministers, Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa and Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi.
Terada, criticized for various funding scandals, has acknowledged that one of his support groups had produced funding documentation apparently signed by a dead person.
Kishida said he had accepted Terada’s resignation to prioritize parliamentary debate, including discussions on a second additional budget for the fiscal year ending in March.
When asked about the fact that three ministers have resigned since October 24, Kishida said that he would like to apologize.
“I feel a great responsibility,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Terada’s departure could further weaken the embattled prime minister, whose support ratings have hovered below 30% in several recent opinion polls, a level that may make it more difficult for him to carry out his political agenda.
After leading the LDP to an election victory days after Abe was shot dead on the campaign trail, Kishida was expected to enjoy “three golden years” with no required national elections until 2025.
Abe’s alleged killer said the Unification Church bankrupted his mother and blamed Abe for promoting her. The PLD has recognized that many legislators have ties to the church, but that there is no organizational link to the party.
A large majority of voters also disapproved of Kishida’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe, which took place in late September.
Yamagiwa resigned on October 24 because of his ties to the religious group, and Kishida was criticized for what voters saw as his late and clumsy handling of the situation.
Additional damage came from the resignation of justice minister Yasuhiro Hanashi in mid-November over comments that were seen as downplaying his job responsibilities, specifically approving executions.
The resignations of Hanashi and Terada are likely to be especially painful because they were members of Kishida’s faction in the LDP.
Reporting by Elaine Lies and Kantaro Komiya; Edited by Gerry Doyle and Stephen Coates
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.