TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday dismissed his fourth minister in two months to patch a scandal-tainted Cabinet that has raised questions over his judgment of staff credentials.
Kenya Akiba, minister in charge of reconstruction of Fukushima and other disaster-hit areas, has faced allegations of mishandling political and election funds and of having murky ties to the Unification Church, whose cozy 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 criticized.
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 defense spending aimed at bolstering Japan's strike capability.
Jun Azumi, a senior lawmaker of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan who has criticized Kishida as making other slow decisions on his staff, said Monday that “four (dismissals) are too much and the prime minister should be held responsible over their appointment."
Kishida on Tuesday also replaced Internal Affairs Minister Mio Sugita, who has made past derogatory remarks against sexual and ethnic minorities. Sugita said in 2018 same-sex couples don’t produce children and are “unproductive” and in 2016 scoffed at those wearing traditional ethnic costumes at an United Nations’ committee meeting as “middle-aged women in costume play.”
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. He reportedly targeted Abe as a key figure behind the church's ties to Japan's LDP-led government.
Revelations have since surfaced about many LDP lawmakers having friendly ties to the church, which has been criticized as allegedly brainwashing followers into making huge donations. A new law passed by Parliament earlier this month aims to restrict such activities.
Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa quit on Oct. 24 after failing to explain his ties to the Unification Church. In early November, Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi resigned after remarking that his job is low profile and only makes news when he signs the death penalty.