A Japanese cabinet minister once tipped to become the country’s first female leader has resigned over allegations that she misused political funds, dealing a blow to the prime minister, Shinzo Abe’s attempts to raise the profile of women in the workplace.
Yuko Obuchi, who served as trade and industry minister, on Monday became the first minister to resign since Abe took office in December 2012, following claims that her support groups had spent more than 10m yen (£58,000) on items unconnected to her work as an MP.
Her resignation has cast a shadow over Abe’s plans to raise the profile of female politicians – he appointed a record-equalling five women in a cabinet reshuffle less than two months ago – and could frustrate the government’s attempts to restart some of the nuclear reactors that were closed after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in March 2011.
Part of Obuchi’s brief was to convince sceptical voters, particularly women, that nuclear energy is safe, more than three and a half years after the Fukushima meltdown. All of Japan’s reactors are currently offline.
In another possible blow to Abe, media reports said he was considering the future of his justice minister, Midori Matsushima, amid opposition claims that she distributed thousands of handheld paper fans bearing her name to voters, in a possible breach of the political funds law.
Obuchi and Matsushima are not the only senior Abe allies to have attracted close media scrutiny since they were appointed two months ago.
His internal affairs minister, Sanae Takaichi, the ruling Liberal Democratic party policy chief Tomomi Inada, and Eriko Yamatani, the head of the national public safety commission, faced calls to explain why they appeared in photographs with far right leaders.