Japan’s prime minister appoints new cabinet, shifting some over church ties

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shuffled his cabinet on Wednesday in an apparent effort to steer his administration away from the Conservative Unification Church, whose ties to slain leader Shinzo Abe and senior ruling party leaders caused a major drop in approval ratings.

The Cabinet renewal was the second in just 10 months since Kishida took office after July’s election victory that was expected to secure long-term stability until 2025. But Abe’s shock July 8 assassination and his impact on politics have heightened uncertainty as public support for Kishida’s cabinet has plunged.

Kishida told reporters on Tuesday that a “strict review” of candidates’ ties to the church would be a “prerequisite” in the new composition of Cabinet officials and Liberal Democratic Party leaders.

He said he had asked his ministers and other senior officials to clarify their connection to the Unification Church “so that we can do political and administrative work that the people can trust.” At a ruling party meeting earlier on Wednesday, he called on his fellow lawmakers to come together and tackle the challenges with a sense of urgency.

Abe was shot and killed while delivering a campaign speech two days before a parliamentary election. According to police and media, the arrested man had targeted Abe for alleged ties to the Unification Church, which the man hated because his mother’s massive financial donations to the church had bankrupted his family.

Kishida said the main aim of the reshuffle was to “break through one of the biggest post-war crises” such as the coronavirus pandemic, inflation, rising tensions between China and self-governing Taiwan and war. of Russia against Ukraine. He was due to explain the new Cabinet in more detail at a press conference later on Wednesday.

A survey released by state broadcaster NHK on Monday showed support for Kishida’s cabinet fell to 46% from 59%.

Most of those interviewed said they felt the politicians had not sufficiently explained their ties to the Unification Church. Kishida’s plan to hold a state funeral for Abe also divided public opinion due to Abe’s arch-conservative stances on national security and war history. Critics also see a state funeral as the government tries to glorify Abe’s legacy.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who retained his post, announced the new composition, including five who retained their posts, five others who were brought back and nine newcomers.

Seven ministers who admitted their ties to the church were removed from their posts. These include Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother, who said church worshipers were volunteers during his past election campaigns, and the chairman of the Public Safety Commission. , Satoshi Ninoyu, who attended an event organized by a church-related organization.

Kishi was replaced by former defense minister Yasukazu Hamada, and Taro Kono, who previously served as vaccine czar during the pandemic as well as foreign and defense minister, returned to cabinet as digital minister. .

Besides Matsuno, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki also kept their jobs.

Economy and Trade Minister Koici Hagiuda, who also had ties to the Church, was moved to head the party’s policy research committee and replaced by former economy minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura. Katsunobu Kato has been appointed health minister for the third time, in charge of coronavirus measures.

The new cabinet suggested Kishida hand over key policies such as diplomacy, defence, economic security and pandemic measures to veterans while carefully maintaining a balance of power between party wings to solidify unity amid speculation. growing on a power struggle within Abe’s faction.

Despite criticism that Japanese politics is dominated by older men, the majority of Cabinet members are still men over 60, with only two women.

These include Sanae Takaichi, an ultra-conservative close to Abe who was named economic security minister, and Keiko Nagaoka, a newbie who became education minister and replaced Shinsuke Suematsu, who also acknowledged his ties to the Unification Church.

The church, founded in Seoul in 1954 by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, came to Japan in the 1960s when its anti-communist stance and family-oriented value system were supported by Abe’s grandfather and former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

The church since the 1980s has been accused of underhanded recruitment and brainwashing of its adherents into making huge donations. The church denied the allegations, saying it had enforced compliance.

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