Mon. Nov 21st, 2022

Japan’s interior minister resigned on Sunday amid a funding scandal, becoming the third cabinet member to leave in less than a month, a major blow to Prime Minister Fumi Kishida’s already shaky support.

Kishida’s approval ratings plummeted after the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe in July revealed deep and long-standing ties between politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church, a group critics say is a cult.

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Interior Minister Minoru Terada submitted his resignation to Kishida following media reports that the prime minister was preparing to fire him. Kishida’s office could not be reached for comment on the reports.

A poll conducted over the weekend, before Terada’s resignation, showed only 30.5 percent of respondents approved of Kishida, down 2.6 points from an October poll, Asahi TV reported on Monday. Just over half, 51%, disapprove of the way he handled the resignation of two previous ministers, Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa and Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi.

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Terada, under fire for several funding scandals, admitted that one of his support groups had submitted funding documents purportedly signed by a dead person.

Kishida said he accepted Terada’s resignation to prioritize parliamentary debate, including discussions on the second supplementary 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 great responsibility,” he told reporters, adding that he plans to officially name Terada’s successor early Monday. He is likely to nominate Takeaki Matsumoto, a former foreign minister, public broadcaster NHK said.

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Terada’s departure could further weaken the embattled prime minister, whose support has remained below 30% in several recent polls, a level that could make it difficult for him to implement his policy agenda.

After leading the LDP to an election victory days after Abe was assassinated on the campaign trail, many expected Kishida to enjoy a “golden three years” without national elections until 2025.

Abe’s suspected killer said his mother was bankrupted by the Unification Church and blamed Abe for promoting her. The LDP admitted that many representatives have ties to the church, but that they have no organizational ties to the party.

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A large majority of voters also disapproved of Kishida’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe, which was held in late September.

Yamagiwa resigned on Oct. 24 over his ties to the religious group, and Kishida has come under fire for what voters saw as his delayed and clumsy handling of the situation.

Further damage was caused by the resignation of Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi in mid-November over comments that were seen as belittling his work duties, particularly signing off on executions.

The resignations of Hanashi and Terada are likely to be particularly painful as they were members of Kishida’s faction in the LDP.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Chris Reese, William Mallard, Angus MacSwan, Kirsten Donovan and Gerry Doyle)