Is Fumio Kishida’s government already on its way out? The Japanese media seems to think so. The prime minister (pictured), who has been in power for little more than a year, lost his third cabinet ally in less than a month on Sunday, when the internal affairs minister, Minoru Terada, handed in his resignation. Terada’s exit follows a series of scandals over political funding, including the revelation that one of his support groups had submitted documentation carrying a dead person’s signature. Kishida has already had to replace his economic revitalisation minister, Daishiro Yamagiwa, over ties to the controversial Unification Church and dismiss his justice minister, Yasuhiro Hanashi, for off-colour remarks about the death penalty.
This is starting to look like a pattern for Kishida, who, despite promising experience and stability in a reshuffle in August, has had to jettison three first-time ministers, all of whom were allies. After a weeklong trip to the meetings of Asean, the G20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation, the prime minister is looking increasingly beleaguered. It’s a challenging time to be a leader but Japan’s prime minister is doing himself no favours by hiring friends and, worse, dithering over firing them when common sense demands it. After building up reputational credit with a strong response to the Ukraine crisis and his unequivocal condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Kishida is at risk of losing it by projecting weakness and indecision.
Now his rivals are licking their lips amid what is being described as “resignation dominoes”. The reconstruction minister, Kenya Akiba, is under fire for problems with his expenses, while the parliamentary vice-minister of internal affairs and communications, Mio Sugita, has been in hot water for liking defamatory tweets. At a time when the Japanese electorate is deeply concerned about cost-of-living increases, Kishida needs to show that he can manage his party more effectively.
Fiona Wilson is Monocle’s Tokyo bureau chief.