Calls grow for Japan’s Kishida to fire minister as Unification Church saga weighs on potential election

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Amid a resurgence of the Unification Church scandal, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration is reeling from calls to axe a key minister, casting a shadow over his leadership and the ruling party’s integrity ahead of potential elections.

Kishida is under growing pressure to fire Masahito Moriyama, the minister of education and culture, after it was confirmed that he received support from a group affiliated with the Unification Church during the 2021 election for the House of Representatives. Moriyama’s ministry has jurisdiction over religious organisations.

Moriyama compounded the problem of the church’s influence on Japanese politics – which many in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) believed had largely been dealt with last year – by claiming in testimony before the Diet on January 7 that he had not received support from the group, which has come under fire for allegedly pressuring followers to make huge donations.

The church’s tactics were only uncovered after former leader Shinzo Abe was shot dead in July 2022. The gunman told investigators he acted after his mother bankrupted their family through donations to the church, and that he held Abe responsible for allowing it to influence politics.

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