TOKYO (Kyodo) — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could replace Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, who has received help from members of a religious group in the spotlight since the murder of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as part of a Cabinet overhaul to boost waning public support, sources familiar with the matter said over the weekend.
Kishida is expected to retain key members of his cabinet such as Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Lands Minister Tetsuo Saito, a member of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the sources said. The reshuffle, the first since the ruling coalition’s landslide election victory last month, is scheduled for Wednesday.
The prime minister, who leads the LDP, said on Saturday he would ask all cabinet ministers, incumbent and potential, to verify and clarify ties to the Unification Church.
The remark came amid growing public scrutiny of the relationship between lawmakers and the Unification Church, after Abe was fatally shot by a man who, according to investigative sources, resented the religious group and believed Abe had ties to it.
Kishi, a brother of Abe, denied receiving organizational support from the Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. But he admitted to having received help in previous elections. He has expressed his intention to review his relationship with the group.
But the main reason for Kishi’s replacement as defense chief is his poor health, the sources said.
Followers of the Unification Church have been convicted in Japan of illegally obtaining money from people through threats, including invoking “ancestral karma”. More than 80% of respondents in a recent Kyodo News poll said politicians needed to clarify if they had any ties to the group.
Public support for Kishida’s Cabinet has plunged in media polls amid controversy over the Unification Church and whether a state funeral is appropriate for Abe.
Kishida is also expected to revamp the composition of LDP cadres, although Vice President Taro Aso and General Secretary Toshimitsu Motegi are expected to retain their posts, administration sources said.
He is considering the option of replacing party policy chief Sanae Takaichi with Koichi Hagiuda, who is currently industry minister, other sources said.
After the death of Abe, who led the largest LDP faction and remained influential even after stepping down as prime minister in 2020, attention is on how many members of the faction will be part of the new cabinet from Kishida. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who belongs to the group previously led by Abe, is expected to stay, the sources said.
Kishida also leads his own group of PLD legislators.
The prime minister said new training was needed to meet a host of challenges, from COVID-19 and inflation to Russia’s war in Ukraine and heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
“I had always thought about making a fresh start with new members, given the challenges,” Kishida told a news conference on Saturday after attending a ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima. .