Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Thursday that he has decided to resign from his position as head of his party in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in light of the political money scandal that has further affected his already faltering government.
The LDP has recently faced criticism amid allegations that five factions, including Kishida’s party, under-reported their political party fundraising revenues, from which additional income may have been passed back to some lawmakers as bribes.
While Kishida’s predecessors typically resigned their faction leaders during their tenure as prime minister to avoid the appearance of patronage-driven politics, he has retained the position since taking office in October 2021.
“I will lead the party’s political responsibilities and efforts to restore public trust,” Kishida, who heads the fourth-largest faction within the LDP, told reporters.
He added that he would leave his faction while he assumed the position of prime minister, as sources close to him said that the position of leadership of the group would be vacant at the present time.
LDP factions usually provide their members with electoral funding and recommend them for ministerial positions. About 80% of the more than 370 LDP lawmakers belong to one of the groups within the party.
But critics have long pointed out that such factional missions have provided many LDP lawmakers with opportunities to generate secret funds, as it is difficult to track how much money they get from their groups and how it is used.
Following the latest allegations, which are being investigated by the Special Investigation Team of the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office, Kishida instructed LDP executives on Wednesday to refrain from hosting fundraising events.
But there have been increasing calls for him to leave his party to restore public confidence in the ruling party.
With Cabinet approval ratings at their lowest levels since Kishida became prime minister, he was also forced this week to deny his links to the controversial Unification Church after a Japanese daily newspaper reported that he met senior figures in the organization in 2019.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported earlier Thursday that former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich acknowledged the presence of individuals associated with the Unification Church in their meeting with Kishida.
Later in the day, Kishida again denied speculation about his ties to the religious group, which has faced questions about its aggressive fundraising methods and close ties with ruling party lawmakers.
He said that even if these people had participated in the rally, his point remained the same, which was that he was not aware of who Gingrich’s associates were. Kishida added that he was trying to contact Gingrich to confirm the details.
Regarding the political money scandal, investigative sources said that LDP factions traditionally set their own legislator quotas for party tickets, which are usually priced at 20,000 yen ($136), adding that if they exceed their targets, the additional income will be returned as kickbacks in Some groups within the party.
The larger faction, once led by assassinated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and now headed by House of Representatives member Ryo Shionoya, is suspected of amassing secret funds amounting to more than 100 million yen.
Prosecutors are considering questioning lawmakers from the faction called Sewakin, or Sewa Policy Study Group, who allegedly accepted large amounts in bribes, once the current parliamentary session ends next Wednesday, according to sources.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida urges his party factions to abandon fundraising amid scandal
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