By Sakura Murakami and Kantaro Komiya
TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday announced he would make changes to his cabinet as he seeks to stem the fallout from a fundraising scandal that has further dented public support for his embattled administration.
The premier told a press conference he would make the changes on Thursday, just three months after a previous cabinet overhaul.
“I will take the lead in fighting to rebuild the ways of the Liberal Democratic Party to restore trust in politics,” he said referring to his ruling LDP party.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, a powerful figure who coordinates policy across government on his behalf, is among four ministers and several deputy ministers expected to go, according to media reports.
Kishida said the changes were still being finalised.
The shake-up comes as prosecutors investigate whether some lawmakers in the ruling party received thousands of dollars in fundraising proceeds missing from official party accounts, according to media reports.
But analysts say a cabinet clearout is unlikely to draw a line under a scandal that has raised serious questions about Kishida’s leadership and thrown his government into disarray.
Koichi Hagiuda, a high-ranking official from the LDP who oversees budget proposals, has decided to resign, broadcaster NHK and Kyodo news agency reported. Kishida is also considering shelving a planned trip to Brazil and Chile next month, the Mainichi newspaper said.
“The most Mr. Kishida can hope for is to arrest the current decline in his personal support. Increasing it, however, will require more than cosmetic changes to personnel,” said Corey Wallace, a political science scholar at Kanagawa University.
“There’s only so many times this tactic works over a short period until diminishing returns sets in.”
Public support for Kishida’s administration has slipped as low as 23% in recent polls, the lowest since he came to office in 2021. He has twice reshuffled his cabinet, replacing ministers linked to a previous scandal in late 2022, and again in September as he looked to shore up his sagging ratings.
Support for his ruling LDP has fallen 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, an NHK survey on Tuesday showed.
The prime minister does not need to hold an election until October 2025, and a fractured and weak opposition has historically struggled to make sustained inroads into the LDP’s hold on power despite its at times fractious factional politics.
While the prosecutors’ probe centres on lawmakers from LDP’s powerful Seiwa-kai faction, investigators are also looking into whether Kishida’s former faction – which he headed until last week – is also involved, according to media reports.
Matsuno and the three other cabinet ministers expected to be replaced all hail from the Seiwa-kai faction, often referred to as the “Abe faction” after late prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Ex-foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who belongs to Kishida’s former faction, is being lined up to replace Matsuno, several news outlets reported.
Kishida has also decided to appoint ex-justice minister Ken Saito as trade minister, name Tetsushi Sakamoto as agriculture minister and reinstate former internal affairs minister Takeaki Matsumoto to replace the incumbents, according to domestic media.
The factions are alleged to have hidden hundreds of millions of yen of political funds over years in a scheme that saw some lawmakers receiving proceeds from ticket sales to party events that were kept off the books.
The LDP is due to hold leadership elections in September, but analysts say it remains to be seen how long Kishida can hold on to his post, especially if he becomes directly implicated in one of the party’s biggest financial scandals in decades.
The main opposition party earlier on Wednesday submitted a motion of no-confidence in Kishida’s administration that was comfortably voted down in a parliament where the LDP and coalition partner Komeito have a clear majority.
“Prime Minister, aren’t you aware that the LDP and its factions caused an unparalleled scandal? Isn’t the lack of your crisis control capability catastrophic?,” Kenta Izumi, the head of the opposition, said in parliament ahead of the vote.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, Satoshi Sugiyama, Kantaro Komiya and Sakura Murakami; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Sonali Paul, Nick Macfie and Tomasz Janowski)