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TOKYO, Japan – A top Japanese minister at the center of allegations of missing funds survived a no-confidence motion on Tuesday, December 12, with embattled Prime Minister Fumio Kishida saying he wanted his cabinet chief to stay in his role despite reports of an imminent reshuffle.
The motion against Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, a powerful figure who coordinates policy across government on Kishida’s behalf, brought by the main opposition party was comprehensively voted down by 278 members to 166.
After the vote, Kishida – who has seen his public ratings slide over the reports of a probe into allegations that some lawmakers received thousands of dollars in unreported funds – said he wanted Matsuno to continue in his post.
Local media had reported Matsuno was among four cabinet ministers that could be replaced as soon as Wednesday, as Kishida has pledged to restore trust in government amid the allegations.
Matsuno, who holds daily press briefings as the government’s top spokesperson, earlier on Tuesday repeated that he would respond appropriately to the allegations after examining political 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%, the lowest since he came to office in late 2021.
An NHK survey on Tuesday showed support for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) falling 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.
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 shake-up.
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. – Rappler.com