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.