Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering replacing internal affairs minister Minoru Terada, who is mired in a funds-related scandal, and he is set to make a final decision as early as Sunday, administration sources said Saturday.
The premier said in Bangkok earlier Saturday he will decide on Terada’s fate based on the need for Cabinet ministers to explain their conduct and for the government to focus its efforts on dealing with policy challenges.
Kishida, who has already seen two ministers leave his Cabinet in recent weeks over a gaffe or close ties to the controversial Unification Church, also said he will decide on a Cabinet reshuffle at an appropriate time.
“In order to tackle difficult challenges, I, as prime minister, will decide (on a reshuffle) when appropriate,” Kishida said as he wrapped up his attendance at a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in the Thai capital.
As part of the government’s efforts to tackle key issues, Kishida vowed to swiftly submit a bill to parliament to legislate measures to help people financially impacted by ethically dubious donation practices of the church and other groups.
He suggested the bill will be introduced during the current Diet session through Dec. 10, adding that the government must make utmost efforts to “deliver results” on the legislative effort.
Kishida has been scrambling to minimize damage to his Cabinet after suffering low approval ratings, largely due to close ties that came to light between lawmakers of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
A weekly magazine reported earlier this week that Terada had “falsely reported” to a local government that he paid for a part of the gasoline and other expenses related to last year’s lower house election, worth around 1 million yen ($7,000), even though it was actually covered by one of his support groups.
While Terada has denied doing anything illegal, opposition parties are demanding that he step down as internal affairs minister because he is unfit to be in a position to supervise laws related to political funds and election issues.
Hours before setting out on a more-than-a-week-long overseas trip covering Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand through Saturday, Kishida sacked Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi for his gaffe over the death penalty.
Hanashi had been heavily criticized for saying his ministerial role becomes “a top story in daytime news programs only when stamping a seal on documents of execution,” calling his job a “low-key” post.
Late last month, Kishida gave in to opposition calls for replacing Daishiro Yamagiwa as economic minister for his close links to the Unification Church, founded by a staunch anti-communist in South Korea in 1954 that is often labeled as a cult.
In Japan, the religious group has long been criticized for collecting donations from followers that leave them financially ruined and for engaging in “spiritual sales,” in which people are coerced into purchasing vases and other items for exorbitant prices.