Japan’s prime minister shakes cabinet as anger mounts over ties with 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 chose only the ministers who would “review” the relations with the group

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday as he wrestled with growing public anger over his party’s longstanding ties to the Unification Church that have dented his popularity.

The issue worsened into a huge liability for Kishida, who said at a press conference that he had no ties to the church and that the organization – which critics call a cult – did not influence the politics of the ruling LDP.

The cabinet reshuffle came earlier than analysts had expected, highlighting how lawmakers’ ties to the Church have become a burden on the prime minister less than a year into office. The change has become the most prominent fallout from the killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month. Read more

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Abe’s suspected killer said his mother was a member of the Unification Church who went bankrupt by donating to her and blamed Abe for promoting the group.

“We need to respect freedom of religion, but it is normal that these groups need to comply with the laws and deal with them if they deviate from them,” Kishida said.

“I have no connection with the church as far as I know,” he said.

Even as the LDP has sought to distance itself from the Church, with a senior official vowing this week to sever ties, the Church has defended its right to participate in politics, holding a rare press conference. Read more

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The church, which was founded in South Korea in the 1950s and is known for its mass weddings, has been criticized on various issues including how the money is raised.

Some key cabinet members, such as the foreign and finance ministers, retained their positions, but among the notable ministers removed was Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who was defense minister.

Kishida said he chose ministers with experience to deal with numerous crises, but only those who agreed to “review” their relationships with the group in order to restore public confidence.

He said politicians meet many people while they work, but when it comes to problematic groups, they need to cut ties.

On Monday, Japanese broadcaster NHK said, in the latest poll, that support for Kishida has fallen to 46% from 59% just three weeks ago, his lowest rating since he became prime minister last October.

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.

Tamura said seven ministers who had disclosed their ties to the church had been rearranged.

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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 and Clarence Fernandez

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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