Japan’s ruling party said almost half of its lawmakers had contact with the controversial Unification Church as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seeks to dispel public suspicions over the ties and restore support.
Some 179, or more than 47% of the Liberal Democratic Party’s 379 members of Parliament had contacts with the group, whose fund-raising methods have prompted dozens of court rulings in Japan. Concerns over the sect resurfaced after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July.
The accused killer has cited a grudge over Abe’s connections to the religion, which he blamed for his family’s financial ruin.
“I take this result seriously,” said party Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi after announcing the conclusion of a party survey into lawmakers’ relations with the church. “I will reflect on this honestly and make sure that the party has no links with the former Unification Church going forward.”
Kishida is trying to stem a slide in popularity that could undermine his ability to control the party and distract from policies. The premier wants to narrow economic disparities and strengthen the military, largely to counter China’s more aggressive approach to the region.
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Two lawmakers -- one of them a former secretary to Abe -- were found to have asked the Unification Church for help in election campaigns. Another 17, including party policy chief Koichi Hagiuda and former Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s brother, accepted volunteers from the group to help with their campaigns. In total, 121 lawmakers were named in the report as having more than minimal connections with the religion.
The Unification Church, established in South Korea and known for its mass weddings and followers who are derisively called “Moonies” after its founder, Sun Myung Moon, is formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Public anger over church links has fueled opposition to the staging of a state funeral for Abe, set for Sept. 27. Recent polls indicate most Japanese oppose the event, which is to be attended by foreign dignitaries including US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Kishida defended the funeral plans in special committee sessions in both houses of Parliament earlier in the day, lauding Abe’s achievements in economic and foreign policy during his time in office, including from 2012 to 2020.
“This will show our determination not to give in to violence and to defend democracy,” Kishida told the lower house committee, adding that he accepted criticism that he hadn’t sufficiently explained the decision on the funeral.
Kishida, 65, is also facinJapan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Answers Questions on Abe State Funeral
Fumio Kishida, right, during a committee session on Sept. 8.Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg
Opposition leaders said he had failed to consider the negative side of Abe’s legacy, including scandals and links to the Unification Church, and questioned his right to decide on the taxpayer-funded event without consulting lawmakers.
g discontent over surging fuel and food prices, amid a weakening yen. Several recent major polls have shown his backing fell below 50%. Minutes after the LDP announcement, he unveiled plans for a new economic package and continuing subsidies on gasoline and imported wheat.
Kishida announced a state funeral for Abe days after his assassination on the campaign trail in July. Part of the opposition centers on the cost of the event, which the government has estimated at about 1.7 billion yen ($12 million).
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed his attendance at the ceremony, which may attract as many as 6,000 people. Kishida said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, European Council President Charles Michel and Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc also planned to attend.
The Unification Church has said it took steps more than a decade ago to curb “excessive actions” by some of its members. Motegi told reporters that any lawmakers who fail to follow policy on severing links with the group “cannot work in the same party.”
— With assistance by Yuki Hagiwara, Muneeza Naqvi, and Reinie Booysen
(Updates with further details, in sixth paragraph.)