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The Japan News/Yomiuri
The Japan News/Yomiuri
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Unification Church issue continues to dog LDP lawmakers

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi speaks at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday. (Credit: The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Even after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party released on Thursday the results of a survey of its lawmakers over their links to the religious group known as the Unification Church, unrest within the party has not abated.

The party headquarters has set forth a policy to strengthen a system to advise its lawmakers to cut ties with the group, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. But there are some voices of concern about the effectiveness of this policy. A major question is whether it can be thoroughly implemented by the party's prefectural and municipal assembly members.

"I wrote down everything I could find," said Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of economic revitalization. "At the time, I was not aware that it was a problematic group, and I frankly regret that."

Yamagiwa, who spoke at meetings and lectures of an affiliated organization of the Unification Church, reiterated this explanation at a press conference on Friday.

According to the survey results released on Thursday, 179 LDP Diet members, nearly half of the party's lawmakers, were found to have links with the group. The names of 121 lawmakers were made public, and those members continued to be pressed for explanations on Friday.

House of Representatives member Hiroaki Saito, who requested support from the group for the 2021 lower house election, explicitly said: "At that time, I thought the group had no issues, but I will not have any connections with it henceforth."

A mid-career LDP lawmaker said his office has been inundated with calls and emails with complaints.

"A local supporter enthusiastically invited me to attend a meeting of the affiliated organization," the lawmaker said, appearing exhausted. "It is a big blow to me."

The LDP plans to set up a task force in the party's Headquarters for Implementing the Reform of Party headed by party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi. The task force is to establish a system in which party members can check such matters as whether a meeting by an organization is appropriate for a lawmaker to attend.

However, there are negative views within the party on such a system. "Can I ask my supporters about their religious affiliations or decline their request by saying, 'That religion is no good'?" a senior party member said. "No way can I do that."

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also the president of the LDP, said that he would ask local assembly members to "ensure that they comply with the policy of having no relations" with the group. However, according to a party official, there are more than 10,000 LDP or LDP-affiliated local assembly members across the nation, and it is unclear whether the party headquarters' policy will be able to fully reach them.

Motegi has indicated that if local assembly members cannot follow the party policy of cutting ties with the Unification Church, such members "are not allowed to engage in political activities with the party."

But a senior party official said: "Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Constitution. We cannot force a member to leave the party on the grounds of religion."

"The party has to present clear reasons to cut ties [with the Unification Church]," said former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, who has received donations from the affiliated organization. "With unified local elections coming up next spring, if the party says that it will not endorse or recommend followers, the party will run into constitutional problems."

The government and the ruling parties plan to consider remedies for victims and preventive measures for so-called "spiritual sales" and other tactics used by the Unification Church. "We will do our utmost to restore trust in politics and prevent damage [from spiritual sales]," LDP Research Council Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda said on Thursday. Hagiuda himself was found to have ties with the group, including having attended a meeting of the Unification Church.

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