Japanese Prime Minister’s Popularity Dips Over Party Ties to Unification Church | Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has urged his party’s senior officials to sever ties with a controversial religious group after its approval ratings plummeted to their lowest level since taking office last year.

Kishida and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have been rocked by revelations that dozens of party members have ties to the Unification Church. The media say they have attended events organized by its affiliates, paid fees or received support during election campaigns.

Support for Kishida’s cabinet has fallen to 36% from 52% in mid-July, according to a Mainichi Shimbun poll – the lowest level since he became prime minister last October. The newspaper said 54% disapproved of the cabinet, up 17 points from last month.

In other bad news for Kishida, 87% of respondents thought the relationship between the LDP and the church was either “extremely” or “somewhat” problematic.

The church has been in the spotlight since Abe Shinzo’s fatal shooting. Police say the suspect targeted the former prime minister because of his ties to the church, which he accuses of bankrupting his family.

Kishida, who is working from home after testing positive for Covid-19 this week, insisted no organizational relationship existed between the LDP and the church, but said lawmakers must “sever their ties with her in the future.

He also denied that the organization – known for its mass marriages and ultra-conservative views, including its opposition to same-sex marriage – had influenced government policy.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters this week, “We need to pay sufficient attention to relations with organizations that have come under criticism in society and address people’s concerns.

LDP General Secretary Toshimitsu Motegi has suggested that a new party code of conduct would require members to end their relationship with the church, whose members are colloquially known as Moonies. “We will include not having relationships with groups deemed problematic in society,” he said.

The church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, was founded in South Korea in 1954 by self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon. He has been active in Japan ever since he was encouraged to join the country’s anti-communist movement by Abe’s grandfather and post-war Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

Tetsuya Yamagami, who is accused of shooting Abe with a homemade weapon during an election campaign speech in early July, reportedly told police his mother pushed the family into poverty after making huge donations to the ‘church.

Kishida tried to assuage public anger over the controversy by removing ministers with church ties in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month. However, at least five members of his current cabinet have ties to the organization, including the health and interior ministers, as well as dozens of other senior officials.

Among them is Koichi Hagiuda, the LDP’s new political leader, who admitted he visited a church-related facility with an LDP candidate ahead of recent upper house elections.

A survey by the Kyodo news agency found that 106 of Japan’s 712 lawmakers have had ties to the group, nearly 80 percent of whom belong to the LDP.

Critics describe the Unification Church as a cult that has been sued for spiritual sales, in which people are tricked into buying expensive jars and other items they are told relieve from bad “ancestral karma”.

The controversy also overshadowed arrangements for Abe’s state funeral at the end of next month, with 53% of those polled saying they opposed the service, which will be paid for with taxpayers’ money.

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