Four Japanese ministers resign amid financial fraud scandal

Four Japanese ministers resigned on Thursday, December 14, after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the day before that he wanted to face a vast financial fraud scandal that is shaking the ruling party

Four Japanese ministers resign amid financial fraud scandal

Four Japanese ministers resigned on Thursday, December 14, after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the day before that he wanted to face a vast financial fraud scandal that is shaking the ruling party.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Kishida's right-hand man, the secretary general and spokesperson of the government Hirokazu Matsuno, presented his resignation, citing the suspicions to which he himself is the subject. Yasutoshi Nishimura, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry; Junji Suzuki, Minister of Home Affairs; and Ichiro Miyashita, Minister of Agriculture, also resigned, along with five vice ministers and other officials.

“Public distrust is directed towards me regarding political funds, which leads to distrust of the government. As an investigation is underway, I thought I should set the record straight,” Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters earlier.

Shinzo Abe's faction particularly targeted

According to the Japanese press, prosecutors are investigating suspected fraud targeting dozens of members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP, conservative right) led by Fumio Kishida, a political group that has governed the country almost without interruption since its founding, in 1955. These members of the PLD are suspected, according to several media, of having failed to declare the equivalent of several million euros collected through the sale of tickets for fundraising evenings, and that the party would then have reversed.

Investigators are said to be particularly interested in members of the largest internal faction of the party led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in 2022. Its members are said to have received some 500 million yen (3.2 million euros) from a period of five years until 2022.

Judging "extremely regrettable that the situation has aroused distrust among the population", the Prime Minister promised on Wednesday to "turn into a ball of fire to restore confidence in the government", announcing that he wanted to "proceed quickly" with new appointments on Thursday . Fumio Kishida, 66, who came to power in the fall of 2021, already unpopular before the gradual revelation by the media of this new scandal for several weeks, is now only supported by 23% of voters, according to a poll published Monday by the public television channel NHK.

Speculation on early elections

This affair has further “considerably weakened public support for the LDP and the Kishida government,” said Naofumi Fujimura, professor of political science at Kobe University (west). Voters “express their concern about the scandal and the perceived lack of responsibility of political leaders,” he adds, interviewed by Agence France-Presse. However, this is unlikely to result in political change in Japan, “especially considering the low popularity in polls of opposition political parties,” according to Mr. Fujimura.

All the ministers to be replaced belong to the "Abe faction", although the scandal is also believed to affect members of Mr Kishida's group, according to local media.

Even before this scandal, Mr. Kishida's popularity rating was already weighed down by other areas of discontent among the Japanese, including persistent inflation and the fall in the yen, which are weakening the purchasing power of households, despite his announcement in November of a massive new fiscal stimulus plan. The prime minister can theoretically stay in power until 2025, but some analysts speculate on the possible calling of early elections before an internal PLD vote in 2024, which could prove very difficult for him.