TOKYO (AFP) — Japan's scandal-hit farm minister resigned Monday, dealing a fresh blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just a week after he reshuffled his cabinet in the hope of cleaning up the government's image.
Ending the shortest tenure in memory for a Japanese minister, Takehiko Endo submitted his resignation amid threats by an emboldened opposition to raise his financial wrongdoing in parliament.
Endo took office exactly a week ago in a reshuffle by Abe, who had begun to see his government's approval ratings rebound after a stinging election rebuke following a raft of earlier scandals involving his ministers.
"I apologise that I could not meet the expectations of Prime Minister Abe, who had tried to renew public sentiment to pursue reforms," Endo told reporters.
Abe repeated that he would stay in his job.
"I am entirely responsible for the appointment," Abe said. "Although it was a disappointing outcome, I want to carry out my responsibilities by making the utmost efforts to prevent any delays in farming policy."
But adding to Abe's embarrassment, the new vice foreign minister, Yukiko Sakamoto, also said she would quit over duplicating receipts reported by an office of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
"The LDP is going to collapse if we don't act urgently to rehabilitate ourselves," ruling party lawmaker Masazumi Gotoda said.
Endo, 68, a veteran lawmaker with a distinctive bald head, admitted a group he heads to help farmers in his district padded its membership to get extra government assistance in 1999.
Separately, he said his campaign office had accepted a small prohibited donation from a farming cooperative.
Endo becomes the fifth minister to quit the cabinet, other than in the reshuffle, since Abe took office nearly a year ago.
Abe has had particularly bad luck with farm ministers, with one committing suicide under a cloud of corruption allegations and a second one embroiled in scandals that contributed to the election defeat.
The centre-left opposition, with backing from farmers who were long a steadfast LDP base, seized control of the upper house in July elections for the first time since the conservative ruling party was founded in 1955.
"Problem after problem occurs because the prime minister himself has not taken responsibility as a politician," said Ichiro Ozawa, chief of the main opposition Democratic Party.
The opposition had threatened a symbolic censure motion against Endo -- and Monday warned the upper house could even take up a vote against the premier himself.
Abe had hoped to focus on other legislative priorities.
He is struggling to persuade the opposition to drop objections to the extension of a controversial Indian Ocean naval mission backing US-led forces in Afghanistan.
The government has offered to amend legislation on the mission, such as by putting in a line that would recommit Japan to humanitarian assistance in the war-torn country.
Senior opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama rebuffed that proposal Monday, saying: "It's not going to be easy if they just submit an alternative bill that includes humanitarian aid and seek our support."
Abe had stacked his new cabinet with political veterans in hopes of avoiding the scandals of his first government.
With a high-profile resignation so soon, Takayoshi Shibata, professor emeritus at Tokyo Keizai University, predicted that pressure would grow for Abe to call a general election.
"The string of incidents is really staggering," he said. "It's beyond description."
Former environment minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi will replace Endo, Wakabayashi's office said.
The liberal Asahi Shimbun, which often spars with Abe, said in an editorial that the LDP "just can't get rid of suspicions and scandals, no matter how carefully it tries to choose its cabinet ministers."
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