Sep 16, 2023

EDITORIAL: LDP's past ties with Unification Church need to be out in the open


Asahi Shimbun

September 16, 2023


At a news conference following his latest Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government was in the final stage of considering whether to seek a court order to disband the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Such a request should be based on evidence gathered through the education ministry’s exercise of its right to question the scandal-tainted religious group, as well as interviews with victims of the church’s dubious activities and business practices.

We wonder if the prime minister realizes it will be essential for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to scrutinize its long-standing relationship with the Unification Church and sincerely reflect on its past ties with the group to truly “break away.” 

The new Cabinet lineup includes four LDP lawmakers who admitted to having ties to the church in the party’s own survey of its members’ standing with the group last fall.

Masahito Moriyama, the newly appointed education minister, and Minoru Kihara, the new minister of defense, attended meetings of organizations linked to the church and delivered speeches and lectures.

Junji Suzuki, the minister of internal affairs and communications, sent a congratulatory telegram to an event held by a church-affiliated organization and paid a participation fee for the function. Environment Minister Shintaro Ito also paid a membership fee to an organization linked to the church.

At news conferences after taking office, all four Cabinet members claimed they had broken off all ties to these organizations.

It appears the prime minister did not question the lawmakers about the matter when he picked them for the Cabinet posts.

Kishida has said the appointments were made on the assumption they no longer had any ties with the religious organization. This is because the LDP, after the survey, took steps to ensure its members no longer had anything to do with the group.

But the LDP’s “review” of the matter was insufficient, given that it was based on reports from the members themselves and left many key questions unasked.

After last year’s Cabinet reshuffle, Kishida was effectively forced to sack Daishiro Yamagiwa, who had been reappointed as state minister in charge of economic revitalization, due to new revelations about his ties with the church.

Kishida should have screened the candidates for Cabinet posts in advance to check their links with the church. In particular, a rigorous background check should have been done on any candidate for the education ministry portfolio, who oversees asking for a court order to dissolve the organization.

Kishida decided to allow Koichi Hagiuda, who is believed to have developed deep relations with the church in the past, to remain in the key party post of policy chief. This decision indicates Kishida only focused on stabilizing his government’s political power base. Hagiuda received volunteer support from the church for his election campaigns and attended a meeting of a church-affiliated group.

What is especially surprising is that Kishida was considering appointing Hagiuda as chief Cabinet secretary, a post that would have made him the government’s top official in charge of communicating the administration’s policies and actions to the public. This suggests Kishida blithely believes the party has already put its relationship with the religious organization behind it.

But neither the role played by the late Shinzo Abe, the slain former prime minister who is said to have distributed votes from the church among LDP candidates, nor the shady circumstances surrounding the government’s permission for the body’s name change, have yet been clarified.

If the party is serious about reflecting on the fact it effectively endorsed the church, it cannot afford to sweep this past under the rug. After all, the church has been embroiled in serious social issues problems. Not only that, the government used it for election campaigns.

Even if the Kishida administration decides to request a court order to dissolve the church, that action alone will not mean the LDP has come to terms with the past and taken responsibility for its  mistakes.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 16


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