TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to reshuffle his Cabinet on Wednesday in a move seen as trying to distance his administration from controversial ties to the Unification Church following former leader Shinzo Abe's assassination.
The Cabinet renewal will be the second in just 10 months since Kishida took office. He told reporters Tuesday that a "strict review” of candidates' ties to the church would be a “prerequisite” in the new lineup of Cabinet officials and Liberal Democratic Party executives.
Kishida said he has instructed his ministers and other senior officials to clarify their connection to the Unification Church “so that we can achieve political and administrative work that can be trusted by the people.”
Abe was fatally shot while giving a campaign speech July 8, two days before a parliamentary election. Police and media reports say the man arrested had targeted Abe over suspected ties to the Unification Church, which the man hated because his mother’s massive financial donations to the church ruined his family.
Recent media surveys showed approval ratings for Kishida’s Cabinet have fallen to their lowest levels since he took office in October. A survey released Monday by the NHK public television showed support plunged to 46% from 59%.
Most of the respondents said they think politicians have not sufficiently explained their ties to the Unification Church. Kishida’s plan to hold a state funeral for Abe has also split public opinion because of Abe's archconservative stances on national security and wartime history.
Kishida's Cabinet renewal, which had been expected in September before the autumn parliamentary session, was apparently expedited as public support weakened amid questions over the church ties.
The new lineup will be formally announced later Wednesday after a mass resignation of current ministers. Kishida said the main purpose of the planned Cabinet reshuffle is to “break through one of biggest postwar crises” such as the coronavirus pandemic, inflation and intensifying tension around Taiwan and Russia's war on Ukraine.
The July election victory had been expected to ensure long-term stable leadership under Kishida without another scheduled election until 2025, but Abe's absence and the impact of his shocking death increased uncertainty.
Seven ministers who have acknowledged ties to the church will reportedly be removed. They include Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe's younger brother who acknowledged church followers were volunteers in his past election campaigns, and Public Safety 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 former vaccine tsar and defense minister, will return to the Cabinet as digital minister, Kyodo News and other media reported.
Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa will reportedly stay in the new Cabinet.
Economy and Trade Minister Koici Hagiuda, who has reported church ties, will be shifted to head the party policy research committee and replaced by the former Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.
The new lineup suggested Kishida carefully kept a power balance among party wings to solidify unity amid growing speculation of a power struggle within Abe's faction and its impact.
But the majority of the Cabinet members are men older than 60, with only two women, despite criticism that Japanese politics are too dominated by older men.
The two women ministers are Sanae Takaichi, a ultra-conservative who was close to Abe and is being tapped as economic security minister and Keiko Nagaoka, a first-timer appointed as education minister to replace Shinsuke Suematsu, who acknowledged his Unification Church links.