(Bloomberg) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s reconstruction minister became the fourth cabinet member to step down since October, as the government seeks to halt a slide in support and push a record budget through parliament.
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Kenya Akiba resigned Tuesday after allegations of inappropriate use of political funds. He will be replaced by Hiromichi Watanabe, who has previously served in the role overseeing the revival of the areas hit by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011, national broadcaster NHK said.
“I haven’t done anything at all against the law,” Akiba told reporters. “But what’s important is that reconstruction is not impeded and that discussion in the parliamentary session next year goes smoothly.”
Kishida has seen his approval rating fall to its lowest levels since he took office amid a series of cabinet scandals and criticism over a proposed tax hike to help fund a historic overhaul of his country’s security capabilities.
A deputy minister for internal affairs who is a lawmaker in Kishida’s ruling party, Mio Sugita, also stepped down the same day, NHK said. She had come under fire for inflammatory remarks about sexual assault victims and the LGBTQ community.
Although Kishida need not face an election for more than two years, and the opposition is in disarray, sagging approval ratings make it more difficult for him to control his party and push policy pledges through parliament.
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Last week, his government unveiled a record initial budget for the upcoming fiscal year of around ¥114.4 trillion ($860 billion), increasing from ¥107.6 trillion in the current year. The plan set to go to parliament early next year includes a hefty increase in defense spending, part of which Kishida wants eventually to fund through tax increases — an idea that polls show is opposed by a majority of the public. The alternative favored by some in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party is to add more to Japan’s massive debt pile.
A survey carried out by the Nikkei newspaper Dec 23-25 found support for Kishida’s cabinet at 35%, down two percentage points on the previous month to the lowest since he took office in October 2021. A separate poll by the Sankei newspaper showed almost 70 % were against tax hikes to fund defense spending.
Kishida has seen his cabinet beset by scandals that have hurt his once-high support rate, stoking speculation in local media such as the Sankei newspaper that he could reshuffle his cabinet early in the new year.
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Former Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned in October over his links to the Unification Church, which has a list of court rulings against it over its fundraising methods in Japan. Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi then stepped down after quipping that he only got noticed when he signed off on executions, and Internal Affairs Minister Minoru Terada was forced to step aside over accusations of political funding irregularities.
(Updates with report of resignation of deputy minister in fifth paragraph.)
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