In this Aug 10, 2022 file photo, newly-appointed Minister of Justice Yasuhiro Hanashi arrives at the prime minister's office in Tokyo for an expected cabinet reshuffle. (KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP)
TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has firmed up his intention to sack his justice minister, media reported on Friday, raising the possibility of a second minister leaving the cabinet because of a scandal in less than a month.
The departure of the minister, Yasuhiro Hanashi, could further undermine Kishida's support, which has slumped to the 30 percent level in many recent polls, close to a danger zone that would make it hard for him to promote his agenda.
Japan's justice minister Yasuhiro Hanashi has come under widespread criticism over comments reported in the media in which he made light of his duties, specifically signing off on executions, which he referred to as "tedious"
Hanashi has come under widespread criticism over comments reported in the media in which he made light of his duties, specifically signing off on executions, which he referred to as "tedious".
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He was also reported to have suggested there was little political advantage to his cabinet post and that he only made the news for "approving an execution in the morning".
Japan carries out capital punishment by hanging and does not inform prisoners until the morning of the day of their execution, a policy that rights groups have criticised for decades.
Hanashi, a member of Kishida's faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), apologized on Thursday for the comments and told parliament that he "took them back".
Hanashi's office declined to comment when asked about the media reports that the prime minister was preparing to sack him, though media reports later said he was planning to submit his resignation.
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Kishida put off his departure for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Phnom Penh to Saturday from Friday afternoon, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, but added that they did not know the reason.
The outcry over his Hanashi's comments follows widespread public criticism of the government over ruling party links to the Unification Church, a group some critics call a cult.
Kishida has struggled to overcome revelations of deep and longstanding ties between the ruling party and the church in following the July assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
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.
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Economic revitalisation minister Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned on Oct 24 due to his ties to the religious group, but Kishida came under fire for what voters saw as his delayed and clumsy handling of the situation.
Further damage for Kishida has come from Internal Affairs Minister Minoru Terada, who has been embroiled in a political funds documentation scandal amid calls that he, too, resign.
A recent economic support plan has also failed to boost Kishida's ratings.