EDITORIAL: LDP investigation into church links smacks of whitewashing

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A survey by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party into its members’ ties to the Unification Church revealed a surprisingly wide range of ties the group has forged within the ruling party. About half of the LDP Diet members had connections to the church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

But the survey only scratched the surface of the problem and failed to answer key questions. They include how the church or its affiliated groups were able to build such a network with so many party legislators and whether government policies were influenced as a result. Another key issue concerns the relationship between slain former prime minister Shinzo Abe and the church, as he allegedly controlled how votes from church worshipers were distributed among party candidates during election campaigns.

The party’s half-hearted “review” should not mark the end of its efforts to dig deeper into the issue.

The LDP published the results of its investigation on September 8. Of the LDP’s 379 lawmakers, 179, or 47 percent, were found to have a connection to the church. Some of them have received campaign support or donations from the group, while others have attended church-related meetings or paid membership fees for events sponsored by organizations affiliated with the Unification Church.

The review was primarily based on the reports of the members themselves and not on an active party investigation into the matter. The names of 121 lawmakers were released because they were found to have had some level of closeness to the church, such as receiving support in the election. The names of the politicians were cited for each type of transaction but no details were revealed, such as the dates of the meetings they attended and their function, the number of times they paid dues or received donations, and the amounts involved.

The information provided is so sparse that it is impossible to assess whether and to what extent the lawmakers’ relationship with the church was inappropriate. The snippets of information also do not allow validation by an independent body.

Some connection types were not covered by the survey. Lawmakers were not required to say whether any churchgoers had ever served as secretaries or staffers. This is relevant because the church could have gathered crucial information about government policies or influenced them through such connections.

More importantly, the party did not try to capture the roles played by Abe, who would have been a key figure linking the party to the church.

The Abe clan’s relationship with the church is said to date back three generations to his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister between 1957 and 1960.

Of the lawmakers whose names were released, members of the Abe faction made up the largest portion, 37, including party policy chief Koichi Hagiuda, former defense minister Nobuo Kishi, who is the brother of Abe, and former Minister of Education Hakubun Shimomura.

Certainly, Abe’s death at the hands of a gunman has made it difficult to clarify his past relationship with the church. But the LDP’s reluctance to seriously attempt to answer related issues, such as the interview of Abe’s aides, raises suspicions that the party is seeking to sweep inconvenient facts under the rug.

Conspicuously absent is lower house speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, the former leader of the Abe faction, who was seen in a video speaking at an event sponsored by organizations affiliated with the Unification Church of the list of lawmakers covered by the survey. Hosoda was excluded from the study because he does not currently belong to the lower house LDP caucus after assuming the leadership position in the House. It also raises doubts about the seriousness of the PLD leadership in finding out the facts.

At a press conference to announce the results of the survey, LDP General Secretary Toshimitsu Motegi said, “I take the results seriously and frankly feel bad about them.” He stressed that the party would have nothing to do with the church in the future, either at the national or local level.

Despite discovering links between so many LDP lawmakers and the church, Motegi stuck to the party’s position that he was not tied to the group as an organization.

Motegi and other LDP leaders must realize that the party is unable to sever its relationship with the church cleanly and completely unless it squarely confronts the structural factors behind their past ties.

–The Asahi Shimbun, September 10

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