Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided to replace reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba, who has been embroiled in scandals, including one over political funds, a source close to the matter said Monday, in a move that would make him the fourth minister to lose their post within a few months.
Akiba is expected to leave the post on Tuesday, the source said, amid growing calls for his resignation before the ordinary parliament session begins in late January.
Akiba's departure will likely deal a heavy blow to Kishida, as approval ratings for his Cabinet have recently been nearing what is widely viewed as the "danger level" of 30 percent ahead of a string of local elections in April.
The prime minister is also set to replace Mio Sugita, a parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, for her past discriminatory remarks against sexual-minority couples, among other controversial acts, the source also said.
When asked by reporters whether he would dismiss Akiba, Kishida did not rule out the possibility, saying earlier Monday, "We have to thoroughly prepare for the regular Diet session next year. That is all I can say."
Kishida's decision comes as the government aims to pass the fiscal 2023 budget and other bills at an early date after the regular parliament session is convened, but opposition parties are set to resume their offensive against Akiba, which could disrupt deliberations.
After Daishiro Yamagiwa, who had served as economic revitalization minister, resigned on Oct. 24, Kishida was effectively compelled to replace two other ministers due to issues surrounding the controversial Unification Church, gaffes and improper use of political funds.
Akiba, who took his first ministerial post in August, has been criticized for allegedly violating the public office election law, suspected misuse of political funds and the revelation of his relationship to the questionable religious corporation.
Akiba reportedly paid around 200,000 yen ($1,500) to his state-paid secretaries for helping with his re-election bid in the October 2021 lower house election, an act that could constitute an illegal payment to campaign staff under the election law.
The minister has also admitted that two political groups linked to him paid 14 million yen to his wife and mother in the form of "rent payments" between 2011 and 2020.
As for the Unification Church, meanwhile, Akiba had denied any links with the organization but acknowledged in November that an LDP branch he heads paid 48,000 yen to two entities associated with the religious group in 2020 and 2021 as magazine subscription fees.
Connections between LDP lawmakers and the Unification Church, founded by a staunch anti-communist in South Korea in 1954, have become one of the major factors dragging on the approval ratings of Kishida's Cabinet.
The support rate for Kishida's Cabinet dropped to 33.1 percent, the lowest since its launch in October last year, a Kyodo News survey showed in December.
Within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Kishida, Kentaro Sonoura resigned last week as a House of Representatives member after being accused of underreporting revenues earned through fundraising parties. He has already been issued a summary indictment by prosecutors.
The opposition bloc criticized Kishida, with Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, calling the prime minister's decision "too late."
Akira Koike, head of the secretariat of the Japanese Communist Party, urged all of the Cabinet members to quit, saying it "doesn't deserve to be a Cabinet."
A seven-term member of the House of Representatives, Akiba is a native of the northeastern Japan prefecture of Miyagi, devastated by a massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He also served as senior vice minister of reconstruction.
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