VFour weeks after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government is struggling to avert the damage to its reputation. More than 80 percent of those polled in a recent NHK poll said the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had not adequately disclosed its ties to the Unification Church religious sect, now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
The distrust of the population runs deep. In the past three weeks, support for incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has fallen from 59 to 46 percent. Rising Covid infections in the seventh wave and high inflation also contribute to the dissatisfaction. Kishida, who has governed since October, has never had such a bad poll result.
Abe’s murder has such unexpected consequences. According to the information obtained by the investigative authorities, the perpetrator gives his anger at the religious sect as the reason for the crime. His mother is said to have donated 100 million yen (about 720,000 euros) to the sect many years ago and led the family into financial distress. The perpetrator claims to have shot Abe because he found out about the influential politician’s connection to the sect via the Internet.
“No systematic relationships”
As if a veil had been lifted, this information triggered an unexpected mainstream media focus in Japan on the Unification Church’s relations with politics. What many Japanese journalists had previously considered a well-known secret in the government district suddenly found itself in the glaring spotlight of the public.
Politicians such as Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s brother, were forced to disclose that Unification Church members had supported them in the election campaign. Other politicians remembered greetings for events organized by the sect or organizations close to it, or donations made.
According to some research, dozens of leading politicians from the LDP and some other parties have ties to the sect. Liberal Democrat general secretary Toshimitsu Motegi has repeatedly asserted that the party’s systematic relationship with the sect does not exist and will not exist in the future.
The picture is damaged again
Kishida attempted a liberation on Wednesday with an early cabinet reshuffle. The Prime Minister claims that, to the best of his knowledge, he himself has no ties to the Unification Church. He demanded that ministers in the new cabinet examine and disclose possible relationships and exercise caution in future when dealing with “socially problematic” organizations. All the new ministers had promised that.
It is questionable whether that will be enough to curb distrust. The opposition criticized that the promised comprehensive clarification had not materialized. The fact that on the day of the liberation, media such as the newspaper “Asahi” reported that with the new cabinet four ministers still had ties to the Unification Church could prove to be more damaging to the government.
It was about donations from local party organizations of politicians of around 200 euros several years ago to the religious sect. Defense Minister Kishi was replaced due to serious health problems, but Kishida remains as security adviser. Thus, the image of purification intended by Kishida is damaged again.
The president of the Japanese section of the Family Federation, Tomihiro Tanaka, told reporters on Wednesday that he was “unfortunate” that Kishida wanted to sever ties with politicians. Tanaka pointed out that as citizens, members of the federation have the constitutional right to actively participate in elections. The federation does not support any specific party, but because of its anti-communist attitude there are more overlaps with politicians of the LDP.
Kishida dismissed any influence of the family federation on the Liberal Democrats. “We do not recognize that the policies of the former Unification Church have had an undue influence on the policies of the LDP,” he said.