TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is planning to sack internal affairs minister Minoru Terada, Yomiuri newspaper reported on Sunday, the third cabinet minister to leave in under a month in a fresh blow for Kishida's battered support ratings.
Kishida made the decision to oust Terada on Saturday given increasing pressure within his party to lessen the impact on the upcoming parliament session on the second fiscal year 2023/24 extra budget and will discuss the procedures with aides on Sunday, Yomiuri said.
Terada has come under fire for several funding scandals and has acknowledged that one of his support groups had submitted a funding documentation ostensibly signed by a dead person, and calls have risen for his departure ahead of budget deliberations set to start this week.
His departure could further weaken Kishida, whose support ratings have remained stuck below 30% in some recent opinion polls, a level that may make it difficult for him to carry out his political agenda.
Kishida told a news conference in Bangkok on Saturday he would make a decision on Terada as needed, adding "cabinet ministers must fulfill their obligations to explain."
After leading his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to an election victory in July, Kishida had been widely expected to enjoy a "golden three years" with no national elections required to take place until 2025.
But his ratings have taken a beating after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed deep and longstanding ties between LDP members and the Unification Church, a group some critics call a cult.
The suspected killer has said his mother was bankrupted by the church and has blamed Abe for promoting it. The LDP has acknowledged many lawmakers have ties to the church but that there is no organisational link to the party.
A vast majority of voters also disapproved of Kishida's decision to hold a state funeral for Abe, which took place at the end of September.
Economic revitalisation minister Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned on Oct. 24 due to his ties to the religious group, and Kishida came under fire for what voters saw as his delayed and clumsy handling of the situation.
Further damage came from the resignation of justice minister Yasuhiro Hanashi last week for comments seen as making light of his work responsibilities, specifically signing off on executions.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Kantaro Komiya Editing by Chris Reese)