Kishida replaces reconstruction minister Akiba over political funds scandal

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba enters the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ousted reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba on Tuesday over a political funds scandal involving the Public Offices Election Law. Kishida appointed former reconstruction minister Hiromichi Watanabe as Akiba’s successor.

Akiba, 60, is the fourth Cabinet member to be ousted from the Kishida administration since October, likely dealing a further blow to the administration.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Left: Reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba
Right: Parliamentary Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Mio Sugita

Kishida also replaced Mio Sugita, a parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, who has come under fire for her inappropriate remarks about LGBT people.

On Tuesday, Akiba submitted a letter of resignation to Kishida at the Prime Minister’s Office and Kishida accepted it.

Kishida is believed to have considered it necessary to replace the two officials to facilitate deliberations, including budget proposals for fiscal 2023, in the ordinary Diet session to be convened in January next year because the two lawmakers could be severely grilled by opposition parties in the deliberations.

Watanabe, 72, is a member of a ruling Liberal Democratic Party faction led by party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi. He has been elected to the House of Representatives eight times and served as the reconstruction minister in the fourth Cabinet of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which was launched in October 2018.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hiromichi Watanabe

Kishida apparently aimed to prevent further trouble that could affect efforts such as government support projects for areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, by appointing Watanabe, who has experience in the reconstruction post, to succeed Akiba.

On Tuesday morning, Akiba attended a meeting to promote reconstruction at the Prime Minister’s Office. After a Cabinet meeting, he only said, “Regarding personnel affairs, it is not a matter for me to decide, so I can’t comment on it.”

Akiba, also a member of the Motegi faction, has been elected to the lower house seven times. In a Cabinet reshuffle in August, he became a Cabinet member for the first time.

During the recently ended extraordinary Diet session, problems have been revealed over allegations that he paid compensation to two secretaries during campaigning for the lower house election in October last year, an act that constitutes a violation of the Public Offices Election Law.

He has also been criticized over alleged connections with the Unification Church, as an LDP branch he heads reportedly paid membership fees to an organization associated with the religious group, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Meanwhile, Sugita, 55, a member of the LDP’s Abe faction, has been elected to the lower house three times. She took up the parliamentary vice minister post in August. She described LGBT people as “unproductive,” and was forced to apologize and retract the comment during a session of the Budget Committee of the upper house on Dec. 2.

The Kishida administration had already seen three Cabinet ministers resign, beginning with economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who resigned from his post in October over his connections with the Unification Church. His departure was followed in November by those of Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi, after a death penalty gaffe, and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Minoru Terada, over a political funds scandal.