Japan’s prime minister sacks third minister in a month Loop Jamaica

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TOKYO (AP) — The internal affairs minister in Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government was forced into resigning over funding irregularities on Sunday, in a blow to the scandal-prone Cabinet that has already lost two ministers in one month.

Internal Affairs Minister Minoru Terada has been under fire over several accounting and funding irregularities. In one, he acknowledged that one of his support groups submitted accounting records carrying a dead person’s signature.

“I apologise for the series of resignations,” Kishida said. “I’m aware of my heavy responsibility for their appointment.” He told reporters that he will announce Terada’s replacement on Monday.

Terada showed up at the Prime Minister’s Office and told reporters that he had submitted his resignation to Kishida, though he did not say when he was asked to do so.

“I made up my mind because I must not interfere with parliamentary discussion of key legislations because of my problems,” Terada said.

Terada, who has been grilled over the scandal for over a month, said his feelings were swayed between his hope to contribute to the Kishida Cabinet while being concerned about causing trouble because of his funding problems.

Kishida summoned Terada to his office and had him submit the resignation, NHK national television said. Kishida, when asked last Friday about a possible dismissal, urged Terada to fulfill accountability but did not defend him, and said he was going to make his own decision as prime minister.

Kishida said Sunday he believed Terada submitted his resignation in response to the comment he made in Bangkok after wrapping up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Terada said then that he did not break any law, promised to fix the accounting issues and showed determination to stay on. Opposition lawmakers said funding problems for the internal affairs minister, one of whose jobs is to oversee political funds, are serious and demanded his resignation.

“His credibility was already lost and the resignation came too late, and calls Prime Minister Kishida’s judgment and leadership into question,” Kenta Izumi, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said in a statement.

Political watchers also said that Kishida’s lack of decisiveness comes from his weak footing within the governing party. They say Kishida, whose faction ranks fourth-biggest in the party, needs to listen to the voices of three bigger factions including one led by the assassinated leader Shinzo Abe and heavyweights like Taro Aso.

Kishida is expected to appoint Takeaki Matsumoto, a former foreign minister from Aso’s faction, as new internal affairs minister.

Recent media surveys showed the majority of respondents supported Terada’s resignation, while support ratings for Kishida’s government fell to just above 30%, lowest since he took office in October 2021.

Terada’s resignation is a further blow to the Cabinet already shaken by the governing Liberal Democratic Party’s close ties to the Unification Church, which has been accused of problematic recruiting and brainwashing followers into making huge donations, often breaking up their families.

Because Terada is a member of Kishida’s own faction in the party, his dismissal is seen as an additional embarrassment and a blow to the prime minister’s grip on power.

Kishida had been considered as a safe driver and was expected to steer the country over the next three years without a scheduled election after his victory in the July vote, but his popularity has since nosedived over his handling of the party’s widespread church ties.

Kishida also came under fire for holding a controversial state funeral for Abe, one of Japan’s most divisive leaders, and is now seen as a key figure behind the LDP’s decades-long cozy relations with the church.

Abe’s friendly ties to the church, as well as of those among many LDP lawmakers, surfaced in the investigations into his assassination. The suspect told investigators his mother had made huge donations to the church, bankrupting his family and ruining his life.

Economic Revitalisation Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa quit on Oct. 24 after facing criticism over his lack of explanations about his ties to the Unification Church, starting what became known as “a resignation domino” of the Kishida Cabinet.

Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi was forced to resign over his remark that his job is low profile and only makes news when he signs the death penalty, only 10 days before Terada’s departure Sunday.

Kishida’s delayed decision in firing the justice minister led him to push back his Nov. 11 departure for three Asian summits, sparking criticism from opposition lawmakers and observers for being indecisive and lacking in leadership.

Kishida returned to Tokyo on Saturday after a nine-day trip and apparently faced pressure from his governing party executives to make a quick decision on Terada before discussions on key legislations resume Monday.

Kishida’s governing party needs to pass the second supplementary budget through March during the current parliamentary session, while also finalizing work on a new national security strategy and mid- to long-term defense guidelines by the end of the year.

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press