TOKYO (Bloomberg):Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will replace his Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the Yomiuri newspaper said, following slush fund allegations that threaten to paralyse his already ailing government.
A key cabinet member, Matsuno is suspected of concealing ¥10 million ($69,000) in income from fundraising events held by his faction within the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Asahi newspaper said on Friday.
It was unclear who would be appointed to replace him, the Yomiuri said, citing sources in the government and ruling party.
A slew of similar allegations have been made against other senior members of the LDP and a criminal complaint has been filed. Matsuno repeatedly declined to comment substantively on the accusations to reporters or in a parliamentary committee on Friday, saying he would wait for the results of his faction’s investigation into the matter.
Voter anger over the scandal looks set to worsen Kishida’s approval ratings, which are already the lowest for a Japanese premier in more than a decade in some polls. While no general election needs be held until 2025, the LDP could opt to replace him when his term as party leader ends in September or sooner and the spreading scandal could affect their choice of replacement.
Surveys have shown voters are dissatisfied with the measures Kishida has taken to shield them from the effects of inflation. His policies include extending subsidies on gasoline and utilities to spring 2024 and ordering tax rebates and handouts for low-income households.
A poll by the Mainichi newspaper published in November found support for Kishida’s cabinet had slumped to 21%, the lowest for a Japanese premier since 2011.
Data released Dec. 8 showed Japan’s economy shrank at the fastest pace since the height of the pandemic in the three months through September, giving voters little reason to support Kishida, who took office just over two years ago.
- ©2023 Bloomberg L.P.