Japan's scandal-embroiled agriculture minister stepped down yesterday to take responsibility for a shattering election defeat for the ruling party -- the fourth minister to leave an increasingly unpopular Cabinet.
"There is no doubt about the cause of the ruling party's election loss. I feel very sorry and I have decided to step down," agriculture minister Norihiko Akagi said on national TV news.
Akagi had been hit by an embarrassing accounting scandal, which was widely viewed as a major reason behind the ruling Liberal Democrats' devastating defeat in Sunday's nationwide elections.
The Democrats won a landslide, emerging as the top party in the 242-seat upper house of parliament for the first time ever.
Criticism has been growing of Abe's administration, but the prime minister has refused to step down. Instead, he announced he would make changes in his unpopular Cabinet. On Tuesday, Abe hinted that scandal-tainted Akagi would be among the outgoing.
Public support for Abe's Cabinet had tumbled to an all-time low since he took office in September last year, to 26 percent from 30 percent earlier this month, a nationwide telephone survey released yesterday by the Asahi Shimbun showed. Those saying they disapproved of the Cabinet climbed to 60 percent from 56 percent.
Several ruling party members joined opposition members in criticizing Akagi's departure as an attempt deflect public anger away from Abe.
"It serves nothing but a negative impact," lawmaker Yoichi Masuzoe said. "It would be seen as a life-extension measure to delay a planned Cabinet reshuffle. I can only say the Prime Minister's Office has lost an ability to make a rational judgment."
Abe should stay on. Respondents calling for his resignation at 47 percent slightly exceeded those saying he should keep his job at 40 percent.