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Kishida’s Self-Defeating Populist Decisions

Fumio Kishida taking populist decisions

Kishida administration’s overnight populist decisions behind closed doors

Sekai Nippo points out media bias
Logo of the Sekai Nippo

Tokyo, 14th February 2024 – Published as an article in the Japanese newspaper Sekai Nippo. Republished with permission. Translated from Japanese. Original article

Investigating the Request for an Order to Dissolve the Family Federation – Politics and Media out of Control

Part 1: Sudden Change in the Government and Ruling Party – Overturning a Cabinet Decision Overnight Behind Closed Doors.

by the Religion and Politics Reporting Team of the Editorial Department of Sekai Nippo

See part 2, part 3

Last October, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology filed a request with the Tokyo District Court for an order to dissolve the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church). It was revealed in the answer to the question submitted by Senator Satoshi Hamada (浜田聡参) on 31st January 2024 that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida changed the interpretation of the Religious Corporation Law, which is the basis for the request, without holding a cabinet meeting. We will investigate the out-of-the-ordinary political move, such as Kishida’s decision to simplify the procedure for requesting a dissolution order, which is equivalent to a “death sentence” for a religious corporation.

The Religious Affairs Division of Agency for Cultural Affairs is part of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and oversees religious corporations. It responded to the request for a dissolution order for the former Unification Church, stating that ‘it is not applicable’ because the church leaders have not committed a criminal offense. This was also confirmed in the cabinet meeting on 14th October 2022.

Satoshi Hamada
Satoshi Hamada in Dec. 2023. Photo: Tamiron / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. Cropped

In response to a written question from Senator Satoshi Hamada (浜田聡) regarding Prime Minister Kishida’s parliamentary answer that he changed the interpretation of the law to include civil cases as well, the government admitted that it had not gone through a cabinet meeting. This is indeed backroom politics.

Seishiro Sugihara
Seishiro Sugihara. Photo: Sekai Nippo. Published with permission.

Seishiro Sugihara (杉原誠四郎), a former professor at Musashino Women’s University (武蔵野女子大) [in Tokyo], who is knowledgeable about the issues of religion and politics, points out,

“If the government changed its interpretation through consultations with relevant ministries and agencies without going through a Cabinet meeting, its response would be difficult.”

He is critical,

“At least it has become clear that the interpretation was changed without a Cabinet decision, which in itself is a big problem.”

The accusation of issuing a “death sentence” to a religious corporation and criticism of disregarding the human rights of tens of thousands of believers are unavoidable.

The Religious Corporations Act stipulates that a religious corporation that has committed an act that is clearly recognized as “violating laws and regulations and significantly harming public welfare” can be ordered to be dissolved by a court, based on requests from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, among others. However, the government’s response on 14th October 2022 pointed out that there is no criminal violation, which is a requirement for requesting a dissolution order against the former Unification Church.

Hiroyuki Konishi
Hiroyuki Konishi in March 2020. Photo: 石垣のりこ / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 3.0 Unp. Cropped

Even when Senator Hiroyuki Konishi (小西洋之) of the Constitutional Democratic Party, who pressed Prime Minister Kishida to request a dissolution order, asked in a question paper why he (Kishida) had not made a request, he avoided making a clear statement on the grounds that it is a “matter related to a pending case”.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), at the urging of opposition parties, the media, and left-wing intellectuals, conducted an investigation into whether its members of the Diet had any connections with the religious group and related organizations. In August 2022, the LDP admitted that there had been relationships and announced a policy of “having no relationship whatsoever with the former Unification Church and related organizations, and not having any relationship with organizations that have been identified as socially problematic.” By removing from ministerial positions those members who admitted to having a relationship, the LDP tried to deflect criticism.

Taro Kono
Taro Kono, government minister who brought extreme leftwing lawyer Masaki Kito, who is hostile to the Family Federation, in as special advisor to the Kishida government. Photo (2019): Kuhlmann / MSC / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 3.0 Ger

Furthermore, the lack of neutrality is evident from the fact that Taro Kono (河野太郎), the Minister in charge of Consumer Affairs, arbitrarily, and in order to denounce the religious organization, appointed several individuals to the Consumer Affairs Agency’s “Study Group on Measures against Bad Business Practices such as Spiritual Sales”.

Fumio Kishida’s reckless nature also surfaced in the issue of unreported income from the Liberal Democratic Party faction party tickets (slush funds), which became a problem from the end of last year. As soon as this issue came to light, Kishida suddenly announced on 7th December 2023 that he would resign as the chairman of the Kishida faction.

Toshimitsu Motegi
Toshimitsu Motegi in May 2023. Photo: U.S. Department of State / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. Cropped
Taro Aso
Taro Aso, Prime Minister 2008-2009. Here in 2017. Photo: 首相官邸ホームページ / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int. Cropped

Amid suspicions of slush fund involvement of both the Kishida faction and himself, Kishida served as the head of the party’s political reform headquarters and declared the dissolution of the Abe and Nikai factions, in a “sneak attack” move against them. Those factions were in dire straits due to the slush funds issue. He put forth a reform proposal that included a ban on faction-hosted parties.

The fact that he overrode the objections of Vice-President of LDP Taro Aso (麻生太郎) and Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi (茂木敏充), who both had voiced their opposition to abolishing factions, caused a rift in the cooperative relationship between the three, which has been referred to as the “three-headed leadership”.

As evident from the handling of the former Unification Church and the secret funds issue, Prime Minister Kishida has a widespread reputation within the party as a populist.

Daishiro Yamigawa
Daishiro Yamigawa in Oct. 2021. Photo: 内閣府 / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int

In October 2022, Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa (山際大志郎) from the Aso faction, was said to have ties with the religious organization and was forced to resign.

Masahito Moriyama slammed for blatant bias
Masahito Moriyama, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Photo (2023): 首相官邸ホームページ. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int. Cropped

However, even in the current cabinet, connections have come to light. The Minister of Education, Masahito Moriyama (盛山正仁) from the Kishida faction, who requested the dissolution order, was revealed to have received support from the former Unification Church in the October 2021 general election and is fiercely questioned by the opposition. Kishida defends Moriyama by saying, “He has now severed all ties with the former Unification Church.”

Still, Kishida himself is known to have had a past meeting with the head of a related organization. He is however afraid of a domino effect of resignations and is trying to get through by pretending not to have been aware of past connections. This makes it impossible to maintain consistency with lawmakers who were removed from the cabinet because they had a relationship in the past to the Unification Church.

Originally, it was the Prime Minister and the Liberal Democratic Party themselves who raised the issue of “no illegality” in their election cooperation [with the Unification Church]. They will pay a high price for being swayed by public opinion just to prolong their political lives.

See part 2, part 3

Featured image above: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida 16th April 2023. Photo: 首相官邸ホームページ / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int

“Kishida’s Self-Defeating Populist Decisions” – text: Religion and Politics Reporting Team of the Editorial Department of Sekai Nippo

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