Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged Tuesday to take a leading role in restoring public trust and establishing a stable political base, as a slush funds scandal has sent shockwaves toward his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In his policy speech during an ordinary parliamentary session, Kishida also said Japan "faces a crucial moment" in several areas, such as tackling the nation's flagging economy and responding to a powerful earthquake that struck the central part of the country on New Year's Day.

Kishida's address comes amid allegations that some factions of the LDP, which he heads, are suspected of underreporting revenue from fundraising parties over many years and accumulating hundreds of millions of yen in slush funds to reimburse their members.

Opposition parties are stepping up their offensive against Kishida in parliament over the money allegations, now the biggest issue during the 150-day ordinary session that began Friday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a policy speech at a House of Representatives plenary session in parliament in Tokyo on Jan. 30, 2024. (Kyodo)

The political funds scandal, which led to criminal charges against several lawmakers and accountants of the factions, has driven the approval ratings for Kishida's Cabinet to their lowest levels since it was launched in October 2021.

In his first policy speech since the scandal was revealed late last year, Kishida apologized for causing the public to "cast skeptical eyes" on politics. It is rare for a prime minister to touch on an intraparty issue in such an address at parliament.

The LDP promised in internal reform proposals endorsed on Thursday to move away from factions as vehicles for securing funds and allocating key government and party posts for lawmakers. Still, the party allowed them to continue as "policy groups."

Critics have voiced doubt about the effectiveness of the proposals, claiming that it is difficult to distinguish between factions and policy groups and that the LDP failed to hammer out substantial solutions to prevent the abuse of political funds.

Kishida's speech drew heckling from many opposition lawmakers, with Kenta Izumi, chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, later criticizing the prime minister for failing to promise to get to the bottom of the allegations.

Izumi told reporters after the session that he felt Kishida's remarks regarding the money scandal were "extremely insincere."

Earlier Tuesday, the CDPJ and other opposition parties agreed to urge the LDP to question all of its lawmakers as to whether they have received slush funds from their factions.

The parties also confirmed that they will ask executives of those factions to explain in parliament about their suspected involvement in the money scandal.

As for the deadly magnitude-7.6 quake on the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, Kishida said the government will set up a panel under his leadership to facilitate recovery and reconstruction measures.

Kishida said his government has recently decided to double the reserve funds to 1 trillion yen ($6.7 billion) in the draft budget for fiscal 2024 from April to provide emergency funds to grapple with the fallout from the quake, describing it as a "rare step."

On the economic front, Kishida emphasized that reviving the Japanese economy remains the "biggest mission" of his administration, highlighting the significance of achieving wage hikes exceeding rising prices "by any means."

As the government has called on private companies to raise wages for their employees, Kishida said in his speech that he will aim to realize salary hikes for workers in the medical, social welfare and public service fields, among others.

Japan's core consumer prices, excluding volatile fresh food items, rose 3.1 percent last year, marking the fastest pace of increase in 41 years, official data showed earlier this month, as the cost-of-living crisis deepened without robust wage growth.

Kishida also committed to strive to boost local economies that have lagged behind those in cities, reiterating that the government will maintain its goals of an annual 60 million foreign visitors and 15 trillion yen in inbound travel spending by 2030.

In shoring up the tourism industry across Japan, it is necessary to ease the negative impact of "overtourism" that has triggered traffic jams, pollution, hindrances to residents' movement and other problems brought about by the influx of travelers, Kishida added.

In diplomacy, Kishida, former foreign minister, said he will exert leadership "unique to Japan" for stability and prosperity in the world, as the geopolitical environment has become more "tense" following conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Kishida said Japan will cooperate with allies and like-minded countries, particularly with the United States, adding he will pay close attention to how the outcome of the U.S. presidential race in November will affect the international community.

Regarding Asia, Kishida said he will advance the trilateral framework involving the United States and South Korea against North Korea's nuclear and missile development while noting that Japan has been seeking to build "constructive" relations with China.

Kishida, meanwhile, said he will keep urging China to lift its import ban on Japanese seafood, which was implemented in the wake of the discharge of treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant that began in August.

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine dragging on, Kishida said Tokyo will bolster sanctions on Moscow and support for Kyiv. The Japanese government is scheduled to host a conference to promote Ukraine's economic reconstruction in Tokyo in February.

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