Japan: Ruling party witnesses fundraising scam allegation

Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, is grappling with the repercussions of a political fundraising scandal that led to the resignations of four ministers. Reports suggest that prosecutors are poised to conduct raids on the offices of numerous ruling party MPs. Among those stepping down are Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Internal Affairs Minister Junji Suzuki, and Agriculture Minister Ichiro Miyashita.

The ministers in question belong to the 100-strong Abe faction, the largest group within Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was once led by the assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Prosecutors are investigating fundraising scam allegations that this faction failed to report approximately ¥500 million (£2.7 million) raised through fundraising parties over the past five years. There are also indications that Kishida’s faction may be under scrutiny for allegedly failing to declare over ¥20 million in the three years leading up to 2020.

Fundraising events organized by Japanese political parties are commonplace, with profits typically reinvested into campaigning. While holding such gatherings is legal, the alleged misconduct involves exceeding ticket sales quotas and pocketing the surplus without recording the amounts in official statements, violating political funding laws.

The resignations and investigations have plunged Kishida’s administration into disarray. Kishida, who had previously resigned as the head of his LDP faction, expressed his commitment to addressing the allegations directly and vowed to lead efforts to restore public trust. However, his approval ratings, at a low of 23%, reflect widespread discontent over a deepening cost-of-living crisis and plans to raise taxes for record defense spending.

The scandal poses a significant challenge for Kishida, with support for the LDP falling below 30%, according to an NHK survey. While he aims to rebuild public trust through “appropriate measures,” some analysts believe a mere cabinet reshuffle may not be sufficient to restore confidence in his leadership. The scandal has also fueled speculation about potential challenges to Kishida’s party leadership in the upcoming elections, further complicating the political landscape in Japan.

Amid the political turmoil, Chief Government Spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno confirmed that Michiko Ueno, a special advisor to Kishida, would also be leaving office along with five deputy ministers. Yasutoshi Nishimura, acknowledging the damage to public trust, stated that his resignation was prompted by the ongoing investigation. Kishida, addressing the crisis, pledged to confront the allegations head-on and lead the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in rebuilding public confidence.

The timing of the scandal couldn’t be worse for Kishida, who recently stepped down as the head of his own LDP faction in an attempt to distance himself from the growing financial controversy. His approval ratings have plummeted to 23%, the lowest since taking office in late 2021. Public dissatisfaction with a deepening cost-of-living crisis and plans to raise taxes for record defense spending has contributed to this decline. Support for the long-governing LDP has also fallen below 30%, according to an NHK survey.

Kishida’s commitment to taking “appropriate measures” to restore public trust faces skepticism from analysts who believe that a mere cabinet overhaul may not be enough to address the underlying issues and questions about his leadership. Corey Wallace, an associate professor of political science and international relations at Kanagawa University, suggests that arresting the decline in Kishida’s personal support may be the most he can hope for at this stage. However, increasing that support will likely require more substantive changes than cosmetic personnel adjustments.

Looking ahead, there is speculation that Kishida might face a challenge for the LDP’s leadership when the party elects a new president in September, assuming he manages to survive until then. While the next lower house election is not scheduled until October 2025 at the latest, the scandal has added uncertainty to Japan’s political landscape, potentially reshaping the dynamics within the ruling party and beyond.

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