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Anger about party ties to the Unification Church prompts the Japanese premier to reshuffle the cabinet

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English - After a mounting outcry over the ruling party's ties to the contentious organisation led to a decline...


Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English - After a mounting outcry over the ruling party's ties to the contentious organisation led to a decline in popular favour, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, removing certain ministers with ties to the Unification Church.

Less than a year after taking office, Kishida demonstrated how parliamentarians' associations with the church had become a disadvantage for the premier by announcing his new team earlier than observers had predicted.

The church, though, defended its right to engage in politics by holding a rare news conference, even as his party moved to distance itself from the church, with a top official threatening this week to sever connections.

The younger brother of the assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe, Nobuo Kishi, who had served as the defence minister, was among the prominent ministers ousted. Other important cabinet members, including as the foreign and finance ministries, kept their positions.

According to Abe's alleged killer, his mother was a member of the Unification Church who became bankrupt after giving to it. He also accused Abe of supporting the organisation.

Kishida received 46% of the vote in the most recent poll, down from 59% just three weeks prior, according to national broadcaster NHK, marking his lowest approval rating since taking office as prime minister in October.

According to political observer and former LDP employee Shigenobu Tamura, "Criticism over the Unification Church produced a huge loss in public support for the administration and preventing that decline was a big reason for pushing ahead the change of the cabinet and major party positions."

Tamura added that seven ministers who had revealed affiliations with the church were all rearranged.

COMPLEX BALANCE

According to analysts, Kishida had to strike a difficult balance between pleasing influential groups within the LDP, particularly the largest, to which Abe had belonged, and trying to reduce the controversy's negative effects.

Koichi Hagiuda was demoted to industry minister by Kishida, who then appointed him to a crucial party position. Hagiuda, a supporter of Abe, was once close to the previous prime minister.

Yasukazu Hamada, who previously served in the position, took over as defence minister from Abe's brother Kishi and is likely to work to enhance the defence budget Kishida promised. Later on Wednesday, Kishida will conduct a press conference.

Tomihiro Tanaka, the local head of the Unification Church, stated during a news briefing with foreign journalists that the organisation did not ask for money from members who could not afford it.

Due to its anti-Communist stance, the church has a strong relationship to politics through affiliated organisations, which has led to increasing interaction with LDP lawmakers, he stated during the event on Wednesday.

In a sign that he wants to be rigorous, Kishida, who has previously stated he has no affiliations with the Unification Church, said this week that new cabinet members and party officials will need to "thoroughly investigate" their ties to the organisation.

However, the Asahi Shimbun daily tabloid reported that Minoru Terada, who was designated internal affairs minister in the reshuffle, had donated money to a group connected to the Unification Church.

Additionally, it mentioned that Daishiro Yamagiwa, the economy minister, who will remain in his position, had given money to a charity associated with the religion.

Terada was quoted in the newspaper as saying he would not do business with the organisation to whom he donated money since he was unaware of its ties to the Unification Church.

According to a statement from Yamagiwa's office, he would explain his contribution later on Wednesday.

The (Unification) Church has deep roots, according to political analyst Joji Harano.

Party unity and reconciliation may remain elusive given that they are addressing potentially volatile subjects.

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