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Embattled Japan PM faces ethics committee to save popularity and budget

File picture of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
| Photo Credit: via Reuters

Fumio Kishida will on Thursday become the first sitting Japanese prime minister to appear before a parliamentary ethics committee, as he seeks to draw a line under a funding scandal that has hurt his popularity and may delay next year’s budget.

Mr. Kishida’s attendance follows weeks of wrangling between the opposition and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) over the technicalities of how to hold the hearings, which will look into how some LDP factions failed to report tens of millions of yen from fundraising parties.

The opposition had demanded a full public hearing that would include the five key members of the biggest faction caught in the scandal. The LDP had argued for a closed session.

Mr. Kishida is not directly implicated in the scandal but told reporters on Wednesday that he planned to attend with media present because he feels “a strong sense of urgency that the people’s distrust in politics will further deepen if this situation continues”. Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that the committee would question him.

“I’m hoping that lawmakers… will fulfil their responsibility to explain their actions on various platforms, including this ethics committee, in order for us to revive trust in politics,” Kishida said.

Support for Mr. Kishida and his ruling LDP has dipped to its lowest point since Kishida took the top post in 2021, with approval for the premier hanging at 25% and support for the LDP at about 30%, according to a poll by NHK in early February.

The negotiations over the hearing have also threatened to delay the fiscal 2024 budget, which Kishida hopes to pass in the lower house by March 2 to secure the 30 days necessary for a budget to be adopted automatically before the fiscal year starts in April.

A failure to deliver the budget smoothly would deal another blow to Kishida as he tries to drum up support ahead of an LDP leadership contest in September, Tobias Harris, an expert on Japanese politics at the German Marshall Fund, said in a note.

“If Mr. Kishida is to survive to fight for another term in September, he has to make a convincing display of cleaning house, put the scandal to rest, and hope that good economic news and some diplomatic achievements — a state visit to Washington in April, for example — allow him to make the case for his leadership again,” he said.

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