TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to reshuffle his cabinet on Wednesday in a move seen as an attempt to steer his administration away from controversial ties. at the Unification Church after the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe.
The Cabinet renewal will be the second in just 10 months since Kishida took office. He told reporters on Tuesday that a “strict review” of candidates’ church ties would be a “prerequisite” in the new composition of Cabinet officials and Liberal Democratic Party leaders.
Kishida 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.”
Abe was shot and killed while delivering a campaign speech on July 8, 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.
Recent media surveys showed that Kishida’s cabinet approval ratings have fallen to their lowest levels since he took office in October. A survey released by state broadcaster NHK on Monday showed support plunged 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.
Kishida’s cabinet renewal, which was expected in September ahead of the fall parliamentary session, has apparently been accelerated as public support has waned amid questions about ties to the church.
The new composition will be officially announced later on Wednesday after a massive resignation of current ministers. Kishida said the main objective of the planned cabinet reshuffle was to “break through one of the biggest post-war crises” such as the coronavirus pandemic, inflation and heightened tensions around Taiwan and the Russia’s war against Ukraine.
July’s election victory was expected to secure long-term stable leadership under Kishida with no further elections scheduled until 2025, but Abe’s absence and the impact of his shocking death have heightened uncertainty.
Seven ministers who acknowledged ties to the church would be fired. These include Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother who admitted church worshipers were volunteers during his previous election campaigns, and Public Security Commission Chairman Satoshi. Ninoyu, who attended an event organized by a church-related organization.
Kishi will be replaced by former defense minister Yasukazu Hamada, and Taro Kono, who was the former vaccine czar and defense minister, will return to the Cabinet as digital minister, Kyodo News and others reported. media.
Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa would remain in the new cabinet.
Economy and Commerce Minister Koici Hagiuda, who has reported church ties, will be moved to head the party’s policy research committee and replaced by former economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.
The new line-up suggested that Kishida carefully maintained a balance of power between the party’s wings to solidify unity amid growing speculation of a power struggle within Abe’s faction and its impact.
But the majority of Cabinet members are men over 60, with only two women, despite criticism that Japanese politics is too dominated by older men.
The two women ministers are Sanae Takaichi, an ultra-conservative who was close to Abe and who is retained as economic security minister, and Keiko Nagaoka, once appointed education minister to replace Shinsuke Suematsu, who admitted his ties to the Unification Church.