Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been compelled to rely more on former Prime Minister Taro Aso, called a "kingmaker" by critics, to maintain his administration amid a political fundraising scandal involving his Liberal Democratic Party.
The move underscored that Kishida's political influence has been plunging as more LDP lawmakers have begun to doubt his leadership and ability to handle the scandal, making him more isolated within the ruling party, political experts said.
When Kishida replaced several ministers and LDP executives belonging to the largest faction at the center of the scandal in December, Aso, who was in power for one year through 2009, is believed to have played a role in finding some of their successors.
Under the current circumstances, Kishida, who headed the fourth-biggest group within the LDP until early December, has to manage his government with more consideration for the second-largest faction led by Aso, an 83-year-old heavyweight, the experts said.
Since the Kishida administration was launched in October 2021, LDP Vice President Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, the leader of the third-biggest intraparty group, have supported the prime minister by sending ministers from their factions.
The LDP has recently been under scrutiny as the largest faction, formerly led by slain Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, allegedly failed to declare hundreds of millions of yen in revenue from fundraising parties in political funding reports and created slush funds.
The scandal has pushed the approval ratings for Kishida's Cabinet down sharply, prompting him to dismiss ministers and LDP executives from the Abe group, including internal affairs minister Junji Suzuki and the party's policy chief, Koichi Hagiuda.
With multiple lawmakers refusing to join Kishida's flagging government, he was forced to reinstate Takeaki Matsumoto, a member of the Aso faction, who had served as internal affairs minister until the Cabinet was revamped in September.
Former education minister Kisaburo Tokai, an unaffiliated member of the LDP, became policy chief by the recommendation of former Secretary General Akira Amari, a senior lawmaker of the Aso faction, sources close to Kishida said.
As a result of the latest personnel change, the Aso group has become the top provider of ministers at five, followed by the Motegi and Kishida factions at three, respectively. The Abe faction has lost all ministerial posts.
But a veteran lawmaker close to Kishida said, "The prime minister should do what he wants to do while listening to the opinions" of lawmakers other than Aso.