Issues related to the Unification Church have led to the resignation of Cabinet minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, following a series of revelations about his connections to the group.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida decided to effectively oust Yamagiwa as economic revitalization minister amid strong concerns that the issue could cause even more damage to his administration. However, in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that Kishida leads, there has been criticism that the prime minister's belated response has deepened the wound.
"I have received a resignation request and have accepted it," Kishida said to reporters after a meeting with Yamagiwa at the Prime Minister's Office on Monday night.
"I undoubtedly feel responsible for his appointment. That's precisely why I want to firmly fulfill my responsibilities as the prime minister," Kishida said.
Kishida had been hesitant to take action over allegations concerning Yamagiwa, whose ties to the group officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification have surfaced one after another.
According to sources, Kishida expressed his concern to close aides in late September, before the extraordinary Diet session began, saying: "If Yamagiwa fails to explain the issue on his own, it could get us into trouble."
Kishida apparently had Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno ask Yamagiwa if he intended to resign. However, Yamagiwa was adamant he would not stand down, and Kishida did not press the issue any further, according to the sources.
After hearing Yamigawa's responses to the opposition parties' questioning during Budget Committee sessions of both houses of the Diet last week, Kishida finally decided to act.
Kishida was also concerned about disrupting policy procedures if he removed Yamagiwa, who was in charge of economic measures and the nation's COVID-19 response.
Kishida might have also hoped to retain his economic revitalization minister if Yamagiwa was able to provide an explanation that would satisfy the public. However, Yamagiwa continued to give vague responses about his ties to the Unification Church, prompting an LDP lawmaker to remark, "His attitude is so insincere that he might look as if he was not sorry for what he did."
The prime minister started to coordinate Yamagiwa's resignation after the Oct. 20 session, fearing it would be impossible to get through debates on a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2022 if no action was taken.
"The fact that he claims to have no recollections about the Unification Church but remembers other things is appalling," Kishida said to a senior LDP lawmaker last weekend, according to sources.
Behind the scenes, Kishida asked Yamagiwa to resign from his Cabinet post and the minister accepted the request.
After Monday's Budget Committee session, Kishida called Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso of the LDP, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi and others to inform them about Yamagiwa's resignation.
For the first time since the launch of his Cabinet in October 2021, Kishida had to make a decision on whether to retain or remove a Cabinet member involved in a scandal.
"If he had to resign, I wish the decision had been made sooner. The response was too slow, and the damage inflicted so far has been immense," an LDP lawmaker said.
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