10 Aug, 2022 07:01
Japan culls ministers after 'cult' controversy
The move follows a drop in Fumio Kishida’s ratings and public outrage over the ruling party’s links to a controversial religious group
Newly appointed minister in charge of economic security Sanae Takaichi arrives at the Japanese prime minister's office. © AP / Shuji Kajiyama
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, removing several ministers linked to the controversial Unification Church, which came into the spotlight after the murder of former PM Shinzo Abe.
Abe, who led the government between 2012 and 2020, was fatally shot during a public event in July. His killer said he had a grudge against the politician, whom he accused of promoting the church, which allegedly bankrupted his mother through donations.
Multiple ministers from Kishida’s cabinet and members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had disclosed links to the Unification Church, now officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
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Some representatives of the church had previously been convicted in Japan for soliciting money from followers through illegal means, including threats. Critics claim the organization is actually a cult.
The government’s ties to the church have been blamed for the recent slip in Fumio Kishida’s public support, as the premier’s ratings have dropped below 50% for the first time since he took office in October 2021.
The prime minister, who insists that he has no connections to the church, said he needed a stable administration to tackle “the biggest challenges of the postwar era” such as the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation, the conflict in Ukraine and tensions over Taiwan.
The new cabinet lineup was published several hours after the previous government announced its resignation.
Kishida decided to keep Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki.
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However, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of the late Shinzo Abe, has been shown the door as part of the reshuffle. Kishi, who is believed to have health problems, has admitted receiving support from the church in previous elections. He will be replaced by Yasukazu Hamada, who previously served as defense minister between 2008 and 2009.
Other notable appointments include Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi, known for her hawkish foreign policy stance, and Digitization Minister Taro Kono, who was Japan’s top diplomat between 2017 and 2019, and recently headed the Liberal Democratic Party’s PR office.
Among the immediate challenges facing the new government are drawing up a budget for the next fiscal year, organizing a state funeral for Abe, and reviewing the country’s strategy and defense policy documents, according to local media.