Japanese reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba tendered his resignation on Tuesday, becoming the fourth minister to leave the cabinet appointed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in August.
Three other ministers have quit in close succession due to scandals, some involving funding and ties with the Unification Church.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s close links with the religious group were revealed after the killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and have been cited by public opinion poll respondents as a reason behind Kishida’s low approval ratings.
“I take my responsibility very seriously as the one who appoints (ministers),” Kishida said to reporters after confirming that Akiba had quit.
“By rising to my political responsibilities, I hope to be fulfilling my duties as prime minister,” he said.
Opposition parties have accused Akiba of involvement in election law violations and of ties with the Unification Church, although Akiba has denied any wrongdoing.
“There was not a single thing that I did that breached the law,” Akiba said to reporters gathered at the prime minister’s office after he submitted his resignation to Kishida.
“It was a difficult decision to make, but I tendered my resignation to the prime minister as I felt I must not hamper the debates in parliament,” he added.
Akiba will be replaced by former reconstruction minister Hiromichi Watanabe, Kishida said.
Kishida said Mio Sugita, parliamentary vice-minister for internal affairs, had also submitted her resignation.
In early December, Sugita retracted and apologised for a number of past comments, including calling sexual minorities “unproductive”.
Speculation has mounted that Kishida plans to overhaul his cabinet by early next month to boost his sagging popularity, with the Sankei newspaper reporting on Friday that some ruling party members have floated January 10 as a possible date.
Kishida did not rule out a reshuffle but played down the possibility that it could happen within the next week or two.
“I don’t mean to say I won’t ever consider a cabinet reshuffle, I’m just saying I’m not considering one over the New Year holidays,” he said.