Four cabinet ministers resigned on Thursday in the wake of a fundraising scandal engulfing the ruling party’s largest faction. The scandal, involving allegations of kickbacks totaling 500 million yen ($3.4 million), has shaken the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and further eroded Kishida’s already dwindling public support.
The ministers stepping down include Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Agriculture Minister Ichiro Miyashita, and Internal Affairs Minister Junji Suzuki. All four were linked to suspected kickbacks from unreported fundraising proceeds, prompting Kishida to initiate his third cabinet reshuffle since taking office in October 2021.
The scandal centers around the LDP’s most powerful faction, previously led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The faction, known as the Seiwa policy group, allegedly failed to report substantial amounts of fundraising income over a five-year period through 2022, leading to the creation of unmonitored slush funds.
The prime minister’s move to replace the ministers from the embattled faction is seen as an attempt to contain the damage to the party’s reputation. However, this strategic balancing act within the LDP may trigger internal power struggles, complicating Kishida’s leadership. Although he is not obligated to call a parliamentary election until 2025, the LDP faces a leadership vote in September, adding further uncertainty to the political landscape.
As the scandal unfolds, Tokyo prosecutors have initiated a criminal investigation into the faction, and allegations of under-reported fundraising income extend to other major LDP factions, including one formerly led by Kishida himself. The developments have not only deepened the political distrust among the public but also caused the LDP’s approval ratings to plummet below 30% for the first time since 2012.
The mass resignations leave the LDP in an unusual situation, with no representatives from its largest and most influential faction within the cabinet. Analysts suggest that while Kishida may retain power for now due to the absence of strong contenders, his credibility is significantly tarnished, leaving the possibility of further political upheaval in the coming months.
The unfolding scandal has triggered a cascade of political repercussions beyond the immediate resignations. Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, a member of Kishida’s faction, has been named to replace Matsuno, while former Justice Minister Ken Saito assumes the role of economy minister. Additionally, seven vice ministers and aides aligned with the Abe faction have tendered their resignations, along with three lawmakers relinquishing top LDP posts.
The investigation into the faction’s fundraising practices has become a focal point, with allegations suggesting systematic failures to report substantial sums. While the political funds law allows for the legal collection of proceeds from party events and distribution to lawmakers, the accusations imply that these additional revenues were concealed in off-the-books slush funds.
Public dissatisfaction with the handling of the scandal, coupled with broader concerns about inflation and previous governmental missteps, has driven the LDP’s approval ratings to historic lows. Kishida, who assumed office with the promise of stability and competence, now faces a severe credibility crisis that extends beyond his immediate circle.
As the LDP prepares for leadership elections next September and a general election in 2025, the scandal could reshape the political landscape in Japan. Observers note that even if Kishida manages to weather the storm for now, the ongoing crisis may leave him vulnerable to challenges from within the party, especially if a formidable contender emerges.
Kishida has pledged to confront the allegations “head-on” and restore the public’s trust. The coming days are expected to bring further revelations, as investigators intensify their efforts and political dynamics within the LDP continue to evolve, leaving the future of Japanese politics hanging in the balance.