The internal affairs minister in Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government has been forced to resign over funding problems.
The resignation of Minoru Terada is the latest blow to the scandal-prone cabinet that has already lost two ministers in the space of a month.
Mr Terada has been under fire over several alleged accounting and funding irregularities.
In one case, he acknowledged that one of his support groups submitted accounting records carrying a dead person’s signature.
“I apologise for the series of resignations,” Mr Kishida said. “I’m aware of my heavy responsibility for their appointment.”
On Monday, Mr Kishida pledged to regain public trust.
“I will fulfil my responsibility by pursuing important policies that are piling up,” he said, pledging to ensure clarity on the issue of money and politics.
He appointed Takeaki Matsumoto, a former foreign minister, as Mr Terada’s replacement.
Mr Terada showed up at the Prime Minister’s office late on Sunday and told reporters that he had submitted his resignation to Mr Kishida, though he did not say if he had been urged to do so.
“I made up my mind because I must not interfere with parliamentary discussion of key legislations because of my problems,” Mr Terada said.
The former minister, who has been grilled over the scandal for over a month, said he did not break any law and promised to fix the accounting issues and had showed determination to stay on.
Opposition figures said funding problems for the internal affairs minister, one of whose jobs is to oversee political funds, are serious and had demanded his resignation.
Kenta Izumi, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said in a statement: “His credibility was already lost and the resignation came too late, and calls Prime Minister Kishida’s judgment and leadership into question.”
Political watchers also said Mr Kishida’s lack of decisiveness comes from his weak footing within the governing party.
They say Mr Kishida, whose faction ranks fourth-biggest in the party, needs to listen to the voices of three bigger factions including one led by the assassinated leader Shinzo Abe and heavyweights like Taro Aso.
Mr Kishida chose Terada’s replacement from Mr Aso’s faction.
Recent media surveys showed the majority of respondents supported Terada’s resignation, while support ratings for Kishida’s government fell to just above 30%, lowest since he took office in October 2021.
Terada’s resignation is a further blow to the Cabinet already shaken by the governing Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) close ties to the Unification Church, which has been accused of problematic recruiting and brainwashing followers into making huge donations, often breaking up their families.
Because Mr Terada is a member of Mr Kishida’s own faction in the party, his dismissal is seen as an additional embarrassment and a blow to the prime minister’s grip on power.
Mr Kishida had been considered as a safe driver and was expected to steer the country over the next three years without a scheduled election after his victory in the July vote, but his popularity has since nosedived over his handling of the party’s widespread church ties.
He also came under fire for holding a controversial state funeral for Mr Abe, one of Japan’s most divisive leaders, who is now seen as a key figure behind the LDP’s decades-long cosy relations with the church.
Economic revitalisation minister Daishiro Yamagiwa quit on October 24 after facing criticism over his lack of explanations about his ties to the Unification Church, starting what became known as “a resignation domino” of the Kishida cabinet.
Justice minister Yasuhiro Hanashi was forced to resign over his remark that his job is low profile and only makes news when he signs the death penalty, only 10 days before Mr Terada’s departure on Sunday.
Mr Kishida’s delayed decision in sacking the justice minister led him to push back his November 11 departure for three Asian summits, sparking criticism from opposition figures and observers for being indecisive and lacking in leadership.