Photo/Illutration Shotaro Kishida, center, the prime minister’s executive secretary in charge of political affairs, accompanies Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the prime minister’s office on May 11. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties criticized Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s tardiness in dismissing his son, who was under fire for misusing his position as the prime minister’s secretary for private affairs. 

One opposition leader said Kishida was clearing a roadblock to calling a Lower House election after the approval rating for his Cabinet rose after the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima.

Kishida said May 29 that he will replace Shotaro Kishida, his executive secretary in charge of political affairs and eldest son, with Takayoshi Yamamoto, on June 1.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference on May 30 that Shotaro has offered to return his retirement benefits, as well as the equivalent of summer bonuses to public servants, if he is entitled to them.

Shotaro, 32, faced criticism after the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine reported that he held a year-end party with more than 10 people, including relatives, at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence on Dec. 30.

The article included commemorative photographs that he and other attendees took in the public spaces of the residence including red-carpeted stairs where members of a new Cabinet line up for a photo and the rostrum used for news conferences. 

Lawmakers from Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for swiftly removing Shotaro, who succeeded Yamamoto in October.

At an Upper House Budget Committee session on May 26, Kishida said he had reprimanded Shotaro and described his actions as “inappropriate,” apparently referring to the photo shoots. But he ruled out the possibility of sacking Shotaro.

On May 29, Kishida said he decided to replace Shotaro to have him take responsibility for his "inappropriate" actions. 

“The responsibility for appointing him rests with me, and I seriously take it to heart,” he told reporters.

A senior LDP official pointed to Kishida’s immediate dismissal of Masayoshi Arai, his executive secretary in charge of media affairs, over discriminatory remarks about sexual minorities in February.

“It is in no way being consistent if Kishida dumped Arai but let his son walk free,” the official said. “It is obvious Kishida would be criticized for being nepotistic.”

It was not the first time Shotaro was accused of inappropriately mixing official and private matters.

When he accompanied the prime minister during his trip to Europe in January, he used official embassy cars to tour sightseeing spots and buy souvenirs at a luxury department store for Cabinet members.

Kishida came to Shotaro’s defense, saying what he did was part of his “official duties.”

In an Asahi Shimbun survey conducted on May 27-28, a combined 76 percent of respondents said it was problematic for Shotaro to hold a year-end party at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence with relatives.

An LDP lawmaker who belongs to the Abe faction said Kishida’s about-face came too late.

“He is hopelessly poor at making a decision on when something should be done,” the lawmaker said.

Kenta Izumi, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, told reporters May 29 that Shotaro’s resignation came as no surprise following his repeated mixing of public and private affairs.

Akira Koike, who heads the Japanese Communist Party’s secretariat, called on Kishida to respond to questions the public still have, such as why he appointed Shotaro as his secretary in the first place.

Nobuyuki Baba, head of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), said the scandal showed that Shotaro was completely out of touch with popular sentiment.

He advised Shotaro to go door to door in Hiroshima, the prime minister's constituency, to learn about how people in the street feel and think.

Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, said he believes that Kishida dismissed Shotaro as part of his efforts to clear the way for dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election.

“We will speed up our preparations on all fronts,” he said.