(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to fire a second top member of his cabinet and as many as three ruling party officials, the Asahi newspaper said, as a scandal over slush funds threatens the viability of his government.
Among those to be replaced is Trade Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who has helped to drive Japan’s plans to regain its lost status as a world-class chipmaker. Two senior officials in Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are set to be replaced and a third may be added to the list, the paper said, a day after reporting Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno was on his way out.
Matsuno is suspected of concealing ¥10 million ($69,000) in income from fundraising events held by his faction within the LDP, the Asahi reported on Friday.
Nishimura, who spoke to the press on Sunday during a visit to Ibaraki prefecture, said he is investigating his own funds and “would like to explain at an appropriate time” as the wider probe among the party continues. The minister did not comment on reports that he was being replaced.
Voter anger over the scandal looks set to worsen Kishida’s approval ratings, which are already the lowest for a Japanese premier in more than a decade in some polls. While no general election need be held until 2025, the LDP could opt to replace him when his term as party leader ends in September, or earlier.
The Chair of the LDP Policy Research Council, Koichi Hagiuda, and Tsuyoshi Takagi, chair of the party’s Diet Affairs Committee, will be replaced, the paper said, citing administration officials familiar with the matter. Kishida will also consider removing Hiroshige Seko, who serves as the secretary-general of the LDP in the parliament’s upper house, according to the report.
Japanese PM to Replace Key Minister on Funds Scandal, Paper Says
Takagi, who visited his constituency in Fukui prefecture on Saturday, apologized to the voters but did not explain the allegations in detail, according to Yomiuri newspaper.
LDP factions expect each of their members to sell a certain number of tickets to fundraising events. The income from any tickets sold in excess of the target is returned to the individual lawmakers. If more than ¥200,000 in party tickets is purchased by any one person or group, the amount must by law be registered as a donation.
Kishida is set to announce what will effectively be a reshuffle of cabinet and party positions soon, the Asahi said. The report comes after the scandal dominated government briefings and a parliamentary committee session on Friday, in a sign it would be hard to leave the ministers in place.
Previous scandals have already weighed on Kishida’s support, while surveys have shown voters are dissatisfied with the measures he has taken to shield them from the effects of inflation. His policies include extending subsidies on gasoline and utilities to spring 2024 and ordering tax rebates and handouts for low-income households.
A poll by the Mainichi newspaper published in November found support for Kishida’s cabinet had slumped to 21%, the lowest for a Japanese premier since 2011.
Data released Dec. 8 showed Japan’s economy shrank at the fastest pace since the height of the pandemic in the three months through September, giving voters little reason to warm to Kishida, who took office just over two years ago.
(Updates with comments from minister’s press conference in fourth paragraph, report on party official’s remarks in seventh.)
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