Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has suffered a double setback after two female cabinet ministers resigned over claims they misused political funds.
Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima quit on Monday after days of allegations that they had misspent money in what opponents insisted was an attempt to buy votes.
Their departures reduce the number of women in the cabinet to three, after Abe’s widely-praised move in September to promote five to his administration, and are being seen as a blow to his gender reform drive.
“I’m the person who appointed the two. As prime minister, I take responsibility for this and deeply apologise for this situation,” Abe told reporters.
Yoichi Miyazawa, a lawmaker and nephew of former prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa, will replace Obuchi as industry minister, Abe said.
Yoko Kamikawa, a 61-year-old female politician, was named as the new justice minister.
The double resignations are the first significant problem for Abe since he swept to power in December 2012, ending years of fragile governments that swapped prime ministers on an annual basis.
Money scandals are not uncommon in Japanese politics.
The promotion of five women to his cabinet was seen as part of Abe’s bid to boost the role of women in society, a move viewed as vital to help plug the holes in Japan’s workforce and make better use of a pool of latent talent.
Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary-general and the number two in Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, earlier said Obuchi’s resignation was “extremely regrettable.”
“As Ms Obuchi was symbolic of women having an active role, I think there will be damage (to the government),” Tanigaki told reporters.