Japanese PM purges Cabinet after support falls in relationship with church

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday in an apparent attempt to separate his administration from the conservative Unification Church because of its ties to assassinated leader Shinzo Abe. and senior ruling party members.

The reshuffle, the second in just 10 months since Mr. Kishida took office, following his victory in the July election is expected to ensure long-term stability until 2025. But the assassination caused shock. Abe’s action on July 8 and its impact on politics has increased uncertainty as public support for Kishida’s Cabinet plunges.

Kishida said it was important to gain the people’s trust and that the new Cabinet consisted only of those who agreed to rigorously review their relationship with the church and help victims of religious businesses. accused of fraud.

“We have to be careful about our relationship with an organization that has known social problems so that they don’t raise suspicion in the public,” Kishida said.

A survey released by public broadcaster NHK on Monday showed support for Kishida’s Cabinet fell from 59 percent to 46 percent.

Most respondents said they think politicians have not fully explained their relationship with the Unification Church. Kishida’s plan to hold a national mourning for Prime Minister Abe has also divided public opinion because of Prime Minister Abe’s conservative views on national security and wartime history.

Political analyst Atsuo Ito told TBS that “The cabinet reshuffle is damage control” to divert public attention from the Unification Church scandal.

Abe was shot dead while giving a campaign speech two days before the parliamentary elections. Police and media reports say the suspect targeted Abe on suspicion of having ties to the Unification Church, which the man hates because of his mother’s huge financial donations. for the church that ruined his family.

Abe, in his video message to the church’s affiliated organization, Global Peace Foundation, in September 2021, praises the work towards peace on the Korean Peninsula and its focus on values. family. Some experts suggest that Abe’s appearance in the video may have motivated the suspect.

The relationship between the church and Japan’s ruling party dates back to Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister and shared American concerns about the spread of communism in Japan during the 1960s.

The church since the 1980s has faced accusations of fraudulent recruitment and brainwashing of its followers to make huge donations. Critics say the church contributed votes to get border candidates to win the election, while also allegedly fueling their opposition to equal rights for women and minorities. Sex numbers are reflected in government policies.

On Wednesday, Tomihiro Tanaka, the president of the church, which now calls himself the Family Federation for World Peace and Unity, told a news conference that one of the groups is related to the church, which he says called the “peace union”, became more politically active and engaged in election campaigns.

But he denied any “political interference” with specific parties and said Kishida’s call for his party members to secede from the church was “regrettable.”

Tanaka said the church and its affiliated groups have naturally developed closer ties with Liberal Democratic Party conservatives than others because of their general anti-communist stance.

“We have worked with politicians who have a strong stance against communism to build a better country,” Tanaka said. “We are pursuing activism not only in Japan but as part of a global network against communism.”

Kishida denied the church’s “inappropriate influence” on government policies.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who remains in his post, announced a new Cabinet, consisting of five ministers holding their posts, five others brought back and nine for the first time.

Seven pastors admitted their ties to the church had been dropped. They include Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother, who says church followers were volunteers in his previous election campaigns, and Public Safety Committee Chairman Satoshi Ninoyu, who attended an event organized by a church-related organization.

Several newly appointed ministers said they had donated and had other links to the church in the past, drawing criticism from opposition leaders.

Senior Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Akira Koike said the reform did not cover up the Unification Church’s ties. “It just shows the LDP’s deep relationship with the church because they can’t form a Cabinet without excluding legislators with church connections.”

Kishida said the main purpose of the reshuffle was to “get through one of the biggest post-war crises” such as the coronavirus pandemic, inflation, rising tensions between China and self-ruled Taiwan and the war of Russia with Ukraine. He said strengthening Japan’s military capabilities and spending was a top priority.

Kishi was replaced by former Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, and Taro Kono, who had previously served as the immunization tsar during the pandemic as well as foreign and defense minister, returned to the Cabinet as technical minister. number.

Along with Matsuno, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito, and Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki also hold the posts.

Economy and Trade Minister Koici Hagiuda, who also has ties to the church, was moved to head the party’s policy research committee and was replaced by former Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura. Katsunobu Kato was appointed Health Minister for the third time, tasked with implementing measures against the coronavirus.

The new cabinet suggested that Kishida task veterans with key categories such as diplomacy, defense, economic security and anti-pandemic measures while carefully keeping the balance of power between parties. aimed at forging unity amid growing speculation about a power struggle within Abe’s side.

Despite criticism that Japanese politics is dominated by older men, the majority of Cabinet members are still men over the age of 60, with only two women.

They include Sanae Takaichi, an ultra-conservative close to Abe who was appointed economic security minister, and Keiko Nagaoka, who became the first education minister and replaced Shinsuke Suematsu, who was also acknowledges its association with the Unification Church.

Gender Minister Seiko Noda, who admitted sending a message to a church-related group event in 2001 attended by her aide, has been replaced by Masanobu Ogura in the Cabinet position. his first.

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