TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday dismissed his fourth minister in two months to patch a scandal-tainted Cabinet that has raised questions over his judgement of staff credentials.
Minister in charge of reconstruction of Fukushima and other disaster-hit areas, Kenya Akiba has faced allegations of mishandling political and election funds and of having murky ties to the Unification Church, whose cosy political ties and practices surrounding followers’ huge donations have raised controversy.
“I have made a heavy decision and submitted my resignation,” Akiba told reporters after meeting with Kishida. He repeated that he has never violated any law in relation to the issues for which he has been criticised.
Kishida tapped former reconstruction minister Hiromichi Watanabe as a replacement. Watanabe’s appointment was to be official after a palace ceremony.
Akiba’s dismissal was seen as Kishida’s attempt to remove an administration’s soft spot that could stall upcoming parliamentary work on a key budget bill, including hefty defence spending aimed at bolstering Japan’s strike capability.
A senior lawmaker of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan who has criticised Kishida as making other slow decisions on his staff Jun Azumi said on Monday that “four (dismissals) are too much and the prime minister should be held responsible over their appointment”.
Kishida yesterday also replaced Internal Affairs Minister Mio Sugita, who has made past derogatory remarks against sexual and ethnic minorities.
Kishida said Sugita submitted her resignation saying that she cannot bend her personal beliefs while she retracted some of her earlier comments.
Kishida had been seen as a stable choice as leader after his victory in the July vote, but his popularity has plummeted over the Liberal Democratic Party’s widespread church ties that surfaced after the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe.
The suspected shooter told investigators his mother’s donations to the church bankrupted his family and ruined his life.