Further Resignations Deal Heavy Blow to Cabinet of Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers reporters’ questions at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday afternoon.

Three senior government officials have quit over scandals just two months after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his Cabinet in September. These “falling-like-dominoes” resignations have thrown the management of the administration into severe disarray.

On Monday, Kishida was forced to effectively sack State Minister of Finance Kenji Kanda over company-related tax arrears. This evoked the period from October to December last year, when four Cabinet ministers resigned their posts in succession.

Speaking with reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday, Kishida said, “We must strive to recover public trust by carrying out our duties with the government working as a whole.”

From Nov. 8, when Kanda’s tax failings first came to light, an increasing number of ruling Liberal Democratic Party members were of the view that “the Kishida administration would not be able to survive [the scandal] and that the prime minister should sack Kanda immediately.” Kanda — a certified tax accountant — served in the No. 2 post at the Finance Ministry, which oversees tax systems and collecting taxes.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office — displaying a lack of urgency — adopted a wait-and-see stance, with one executive saying Kanda had not broken the law.

Kanda himself refused to step down and Kishida decided to hold off on making a decision on the matter after consulting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

In contrast to this reluctance to act, a senior member of the LDP exhorted Matsuno by phone to ask Kanda to resign. Matsuno, however, was unsure, saying he wanted to wait for a while to see how things panned out.

The LDP’s largest Abe faction, to which Kanda belongs, unofficially approved Kanda’s resignation. Yet despite this, Kishida did not make a decision on the matter.

Following the resignations of Taro Yamada, parliamentary vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, and State Minister of Justice Mito Kakizawa, Kishida told his aides that he would like to avoid a situation in which individuals quit almost every week.

“Lax” crisis management

Kishida eventually sacked Kanda near the end of last week after another scandal involving the lawmaker became known and opposition parties increasingly demanded Kanda go. The prime minister likely feared that the circumstances could negatively impact debates on the fiscal 2023 supplementary budget proposal due to start Nov. 20.

Kishida finally decided to oust Kanda after hearing from LDP lawmakers in charge of Diet affairs, who outlined the tough situation.

Kishida’s tardy response resulted in deeper damage to the Cabinet and evoked memories of events from October to December last year, when four Cabinet ministers resigned their posts in succession.

During the last “domino” resignations, criticism focused on economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who resigned to take responsibility over his ties with the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification; and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Minoru Terada, who resigned over allegations regarding political and financial issues, among others.

Initially, however, Kishida allowed both individuals to retain their posts, before later changing tack.

A senior LDP lawmaker, who previously served as a minister, said Kishida has not learned from these past experiences, adding that the prime minister had a “lax sense of crisis management.”

Another “rock-bottom”?

The recent resignations have highlighted that the state ministers and parliamentary vice ministers — effectively appointed by requests from each LDP faction based on how many times the recommended lawmakers won in national elections — were, based on their conduct, far from “the right persons in the right positions,” a phrase touted by Kishida.

As Kanda’s successor, Kishida appointed Ryosei Akazawa, likely because he has served as a Cabinet Office state minister, has little chance of becoming involved in a scandal and does not belong to any LDP faction.

A senior government official said there were limitations to the background checks carried out prior to candidates being appointed, and that judging them by their conduct — based on character and ability — was the best way to guard against potential scandals.

On Thursday, Kishida said he does not intend to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a snap election within the year.

Hopes had been spreading within the government and ruling parties regarding working toward regaining public trust by sitting down and promoting policies that tackle present issues. However, Kanda’s resignation has poured cold water on this idea.

It is possible that there could be further scandals involving new Cabinet members, state ministers and parliamentary vice ministers. If this happens, it is certain that the administration will be heavily shaken.

A junior LDP member expressed fears that the Cabinet’s approval ratings could hit a new “rock bottom.”