TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is widely expected to announce a cabinet shake-up as soon as Wednesday as he seeks to stem the fallout from a fundraising scandal that has further dented public support for his embattled administration.
Kishida has indicated that Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno – who holds one of the most powerful posts in government – is among those to be removed, the head of his ruling coalition partner Natsuo Yamaguchi said on Wednesday morning.
Kishida as recently as Tuesday said he wanted Matsuno, who coordinates policy across government on his behalf, to continue in his job.
Four cabinet ministers and several deputy ministers are expected to go, according to local media reports, as prosecutors investigate whether some lawmakers received thousands of dollars in fundraising proceeds missing from official party accounts.
The main opposition party is also considering calling a no-confidence motion in Kishida’s administration on Wednesday, which would be almost certain to fail given the majority his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and partner Komeito hold in parliament.
Kishida is scheduled to hold a press conference on Wednesday evening on his response to the allegations, where the Yomiuri newspaper reports he will likely announce the cabinet sackings. Other outlets say the shake-up will come on Thursday.
But analysts say it is unlikely that will draw a line under a scandal that has thrown his government into disarray and raised serious questions about his leadership.
Koichi Hagiuda, a high-ranking LDP official who oversees the government’s budget plans for the coming year, is due to shortly resign, public broadcaster NHK reported. Kishida is also considering whether to shelve a planned trip to Brazil and Chile next month, the Mainichi newspaper said.
While the prosecutors’ probe centres on lawmakers from the ruling party’s powerful “Abe faction”, investigators are also looking into whether Kishida’s faction – which he headed until last week – is also involved, according to media reports.
Political analysts say this could further knock public support for Kishida’s administration, which polls show has slumped to a record low of around 23% in recent days, the lowest since he came to office in late 2021.
Support for Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has also fallen below 30% for the first time since 2012, when it returned to power after a blip in its near total post-war dominance of Japanese politics, an NHK survey on Tuesday showed.
Kishida does not need to call an election until October 2025 at the latest, and a fractured and weak opposition has historically struggled to make sustained inroads into the LDP’s dominance.
The LDP is due to hold leadership elections in September, but analysts say it remains to be seen how long Kishida can hold on to his post.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Satoshi Sugiyama; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Sonali Paul)