Former Japan Leader Criticizes Kishida, Says Party Needs Change

(Bloomberg) -- Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s poor handling of a ruling party slush fund scandal has triggered mistrust among voters, his predecessor said in an interview Sunday, adding a sense of change would be needed at an upcoming party leadership election.

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“A lot of people are suspicious over the fact he hasn’t mentioned his own responsibility,” Yoshihide Suga, who remains a lawmaker with the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in the video interview with the Bungei Shunju magazine. “It’s important to convey the sense that the LDP has changed” in the party leadership vote, he added.

The comments amount to one of the highest-level criticisms of Kishida from within his party and come about three months ahead of a vote to pick the next party leader. Kishida’s chances of staying on look to be shrinking, with public support for his cabinet falling to a new low in a poll published at the weekend.

The Yomiuri newspaper found support at 23%, the lowest since he took office in 2021, even after Kishida on Friday announced extra help for households with their utility bills and an extension of gasoline subsidies. A tax rebate has also failed to mollify voters angered by the scandal and concerned about falling real incomes as pay fails to keep pace with rising prices.

Suga said many LDP lawmakers were becoming concerned that the party could be toppled at the next general election if changes aren’t made. He stopped short of endorsing a candidate to replace Kishida, but praised former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who consistently tops polls as voters’ choice to become the next premier. Ishiba has distanced himself from the current administration.

When asked whether he’s considering calling a general election, Kishida has repeatedly said he’s focused on urgent tasks at hand. Asked how they would vote if the election were to be held now, 29% of respondents to the Yomiuri poll said they would pick the LDP, while 14% opted for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party. The general election need not be held until 2025.

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