Japanese PM shakes up cabinet as anger grows over Unification Church ties

  • Voters’ support plummets over party’s ties to church
  • Upheaval comes sooner than analysts expected
  • The Church defends its right to participate in politics
  • Kishida has only chosen ministers who will ‘review’ ties with the group

TOKYO, Aug 10 (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday as he battled growing public anger over his party’s longstanding ties to the Unification Church, which have shaken his approval ratings.

The issue escalated into a major liability for Kishida, who told a news conference he had no connection to the church and that the organization – which critics call a cult – does not had not influenced the policies of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The cabinet reshuffle came sooner than analysts expected, underscoring how lawmakers’ ties to the church have become a liability for the prime minister less than a year after taking office. The upheaval has become the most visible consequence of the murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month. Read more

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Abe’s alleged killer said his mother was a bankrupt Unification Church member giving him a donation, and accused Abe of promoting the group.

“We must respect freedom of religion, but it is only natural that these groups must obey the laws and be dealt with if they deviate from them,” Kishida said.

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

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

The church, founded in South Korea in the 1950s and known for its mass marriages, has come under criticism over a variety of issues, including how it raises funds.

Some key cabinet members, such as the foreign and finance ministers, retained their posts, but among the senior ministers removed was Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who had served as minister of Defense.

Kishida said he chose experienced ministers to deal with many crises, but only those who agreed to “revisit” their ties with the group in order to regain public trust.

He said politicians meet many people in the course of their work, but when it comes to problematic groups, they have to cut ties.

In the latest survey, support for Kishida had fallen to 46% from 59% just three weeks ago, public broadcaster NHK said on Monday, for its lowest rating since becoming prime minister last October. .

“Criticism of the Unification Church caused a sharp decline in public support for the administration and halting that decline was a major reason for proposing the reshuffling of the cabinet and key positions in the party,” said Shigenobu Tamura, a political commentator who previously worked for the LDP.

A total of seven ministers who had revealed ties to the church were reshuffled, Tamura said.

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Reporting by Elaine Lies, Yoshifumi Takemoto, Sakura Murakami, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Tim Kelly; Written by Elaine Lies; Editing by David Dolan and Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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