Japan: Fourth minister leaves PM Kishida’s four-month-old cabinet

Japanese Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba tendered his resignation on Tuesday, becoming the fourth minister to leave the cabinet appointed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in August.

Three other ministers have resigned in quick succession amid scandals, some involving funding and ties to the Unification Church.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s close ties to the religious group were exposed after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and cited by opinion polls as a reason for Kishida’s low approval ratings.

“I take my responsibility as the one who appoints (ministers) very seriously,” Kishida told reporters after confirming Akiba had resigned.

“By taking on my political responsibilities, I hope to fulfill my duties as prime minister,” he said.

Opposition parties have accused Akiba of involvement in electoral law violations and links to the Unification Church, although Akiba denies any wrongdoing.

“I have not done anything that is against the law,” Akiba told reporters gathered at the prime minister’s office after he handed in his resignation to Kishida.

“It was a difficult decision, but I submitted my resignation to the Prime Minister because I felt I should not obstruct debates in Parliament,” he added.

Akiba will be replaced by former Reconstruction Minister Hiromichi Watanabe, Kishida said.

Kishida said Mio Sugita, parliamentary deputy interior minister, also tendered her resignation.

In early December, Sugita backed down and apologized for a number of previous comments, including labeling sexual minorities “unproductive”.

Speculation is mounting that Kishida plans to overhaul his cabinet by early next month to boost his dwindling popularity. The Sankei newspaper reported on Friday that some members of the ruling party have suggested January 10 as a possible date.

Kishida didn’t rule out a line-up change, but downplayed the possibility that it could happen in the next week or two.

“I’m not saying I’ll never consider a cabinet reshuffle, I’m just saying I won’t consider one over the New Year holidays,” he said.

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