Top Japanese minister faces no-confidence vote over swirling funds scandal

Top Japanese minister faces no-confidence vote over swirling funds scandal
Top Japanese minister faces no-confidence vote over swirling funds scandal

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Japan's Chief of Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu announces new cabinet members at a news conference in Tokyo October 4, 2021. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, Dec 12 — One of Japan’s most prominent government ministers faces a no-confidence motion today, underlining the intense pressure mounting on Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration over a fundraising scandal even though the vote is almost certain to fail.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, a powerful figure who coordinates policy across government on Kishida’s behalf, is among ministers expected to be purged by the embattled premier later this week even if he survives the vote as expected, media have reported.

The LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito have a clear majority in parliament to be able to defeat the vote.

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Matsuno, who holds daily press briefings as the government’s top spokesperson, repeated that he would respond appropriately after examining political funds on Tuesday.

As many as 15 lawmakers, including four cabinet ministers, could be sacked as soon as Thursday, according to the media reports, as Kishida has pledged to restore trust in government amid allegations that some lawmakers received thousands of dollars in unreported funds.

In the wake of the reports of a probe by Tokyo prosecutors, polls published in recent days have shown support for Kishida’s administration hitting around 23 per cent, the lowest since he came to office in late 2021.

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An NHK survey today showed support for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) falling below 30 per cent for the first time since 2012, when it returned to power after a blip in its near total post-war dominance of Japanese politics.

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.

But time may be running out for the prime minister, who analysts say will struggle to revive his fortunes even with a cabinet clearout.

The probe centres around the LDP’s biggest and most powerful Seiwa-kai faction, formerly led by late prime minister Shinzo Abe and often still referred to as the Abe faction.

They are alleged to have hidden hundreds of millions of yen of political funds over five years in a scheme that saw some lawmakers receiving “kickbacks” from ticket sales to party events that were kept off the books, according to media reports.

But in another potential blow for Kishida, a report by NHK on Tuesday said prosecutors were also examining whether his former faction — which he headed until last week — has also under-reported fundraising income.

Kishida has previously said he had not heard about any kickbacks within his faction. He withdrew from his faction last week in an effort to take a more neutral stand on the escalating scandal. — Reuters

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