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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida resigned as chief of his faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Thursday, following a political fundraising scandal that has further tarnished the prime minister’s already sinking popularity and prompted questions about his staying power, Kyodo News reported.
Kishida, who heads the fourth-largest faction within the LDP, announced he would step down, saying he “will take the lead in the party’s political responsibilities and efforts to restore public trust.”
He will continue to remain the country’s prime minister. Even so, there are doubts he will be able to remain in the top job despite a fractured opposition, Reuters reported. “I don’t think he can hold on to power for that much longer … and that is in part because this scandal is big and we haven’t seen the end of it yet,” Koichi Nakano, a professor specializing in Japanese politics at Tokyo’s Sophia University, told the newswire.
The move follows allegations that the LDP’s five factions have under-reported their revenue from political fundraising parties, with critics saying that the extra income may have been returned to some lawmakers as kickbacks.
The party’s factions traditionally offer election funding to their members and recommend the latter for ministerial roles – around 80 percent of LDP lawmakers belong to such groups.
But detractors noted that such functions of factions allow lawmakers to generate secret funds, as the money’s source and usage are difficult to trace.
The scandal has prompted the attorney general’s office in Tokyo to launch an investigation into dozens of LDP lawmakers and current ministers over more than $680,000 of fundraising proceeds that are not in official records, Reuters said.
Kishida, meanwhile, ordered LDP officials to stop hosting fundraising parties.
Still, the recent accusations come as Kishida and his cabinet are facing very low approval ratings as voters worry about the rising cost of living and looming tax increases.
The prime minister has also come under fire over his links with the controversial Unification Church, a religious group that has come under scrutiny over its aggressive fundraising methods and close ties with ruling party legislators.
Kishida has denied links with the Unification Church.
The LDP – which has held power for nearly all of Japan’s post-war era – is due to hold leadership elections next year with a general election due by October 2025.