On Dec 14, Saito Ken was named the new METI minister following his predecessor’s resignation over a financial scandal in the Cabinet. He replaced Nishimura Yasutoshi, who, alongside other members of the ruling LDP, is accused of underreporting the party’s income.
Prime Minister Kishida also ousted the economy minister, internal affairs minister, agriculture minister, as well as Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno. All are members of the LDP’s largest faction led by the late PM Abe. They allegedly received kickbacks worth ¥500 million through excess sales of tickets to fundraising events.
The scandal has plunged already limp ratings for PM Kishida’s government to worrying levels. His personal support rate dropped to 17% in a Jiji poll as similar allegations were made around other LDP factions. Kishida has already purged more than a dozen Abe faction members from top posts within the government and party.
Despite the political maelstrom, incoming METI minister Saito is expected to be a steady hand on the tiller. While this is his first ministerial position at METI, the ministry is actually where Saito began to build his government service career in the early 1980s.
He’s already hit the ground running, attending the key ASEAN-Japan Economic Co- Creation Forum on Saturday, Dec. 16, on top of the Japan-Thai Investment Forum the previous day. In meetings with the leaders of Vietnam, Thailand and Brunei, Saito has echoed the current government’s focus on an energy transition that aligns with regional interests.