Japan’s prime minister changes cabinet as anger mounts over ties with the Unification Church

  • Voter support declined due to party ties to the Church
  • The tremor came earlier than analysts expected
  • The Church defends its right to participate in politics
  • Kishida says the UC did not influence party politics

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday amid growing public anger over the ruling party’s controversial Unification Church ties, saying the group had had no influence on party politics.

The LDP’s long-standing ties to the Unification Church, which critics call a cult, became a major drag on Kishida in the month following the murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, helping push Kishida’s approval rating to its lowest since he took office in October. .

Abe’s suspected killer said his mother, a member of the church, went bankrupt because of it and blamed the politician for supporting it. The group was founded in South Korea in the 1950s and is known for its mass weddings, and has been criticized for its fundraising and other issues.

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Since then, a dozen or so politicians from the conservative LDP have revealed ties to the church or affiliated organizations – such as speaking at events – highlighting a relationship with the deeply anti-communist church that dates back to the Cold War era. Read more

“We need to respect freedom of religion, but it is normal for these groups to abide by the laws and be dealt with if they deviate from them,” Kishida told a news conference, adding that he did not believe he had any connection with the church.

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“I don’t think UC policies have unfairly influenced party politics,” he said.

Key cabinet members, such as the foreign and finance ministers, retained their positions, but seven ministers who had revealed links to the church were excluded.

Among them was Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who had been defense minister, although many expected him to leave for health reasons.

The cabinet reshuffle came earlier than analysts had expected, highlighting the speed with which the issue turned into a crisis for Kishida. Read more

Shigenobu Tamura, a political commentator who previously worked for the party, said that “criticism of the Unification Church caused a significant decrease in popular support for the administration, and stopping this decline was a great reason to introduce a reshuffle and key party positions.” LDP.

damage control

Japanese broadcaster NHK said on Monday that support for Kishida had fallen to 46 percent from 59 percent just three weeks ago, his lowest rating since he became prime minister in October.

“It’s basically doing damage control,” said political commentator Atsu Ito.

Even as the LDP has sought to distance itself from the Church, with a senior party official recently saying it would cut ties, the Church has defended its right to participate in politics, highlighting its relationship with LDP lawmakers in a rare press conference. Read more

Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Unification Church of Japan, said it was “extremely unfortunate” if Kishida was directing lawmakers to sever ties with the congregation.

He said it was the duty and right of religious organizations to engage in political activity, noting that his church and its affiliates were more interactive with LDP deputies than those from other parties.

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delicate balance

Kishida said he chose ministers with experience to deal with crises he described as some of the toughest in decades, including rising tensions with China over Taiwan, but only those who agreed to “review” their relations with the church.

Analysts said that while Kishida sought to reduce the controversies arising from the controversy, he also had to maintain a delicate balance in appeasing the powerful factions within the LDP, especially the larger ones, to which Abe belonged.

For example, Kishida dismissed Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda, giving him a key party position instead. Hajiuda is a member of Abe’s faction and was close to the former prime minister.

Abe’s brother, Kishi, has been replaced as defense minister by Yasukazu Hamada, reiterating his previous role and likely to help push for an increase in the defense budget and bolster the defensive posture promised by Kishida, a pledge the prime minister reiterated on Wednesday.

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Additional reporting by Elaine Lays, Yoshifumi Takemoto, Sakura Murakami, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Tim Kelly; Written by Eileen Lies. Editing by David Dolan, Clarence Fernandez and Nick McPhee

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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