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Editorial: LDP survey on lawmakers' Unification Church ties far from sufficient

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has released the results of an in-house survey on lawmakers' ties with the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

    The survey outcome has further brought the depth and width of the problem into sharp relief.

    Altogether, 179 members -- nearly half of all LDP legislators -- had some kind of connection with the religious group. Of these, the LDP released the names of 121 Diet members who had attended the church's meetings or had had other forms of contact. Among them were LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda and senior administration officials including economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa.

    LDP Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi had previously emphasized that there were "no organizational ties" between the party and the church. In a turnaround, however, he apologized, saying, "I don't think the number (of LDP legislators with ties to the church) is low. I take the findings seriously."

    The internal survey was hastily conducted after the LDP came under fire for being slow to respond to the matter. The survey answers were based on self-reported information, so we can't go as far as to say they are an accurate representation of actual conditions. Some within the LDP complained about the survey, saying, "Answering the questionnaire honestly puts us at a disadvantage." Given these circumstances, the survey deserves criticism as a mere facade.

    While the Unification Church has faced an array of trouble stemming from its "spiritual sales" tactics and the large donations it has obtained from followers, why did so many LDP legislators have connections with the group? The latest survey failed to answer this fundamental question by shedding light on the backgrounds to Diet members' ties. Efforts to uncover the real picture are yet to begin.

    It has been pointed out that lawmakers' ties with the church may have effectively given a stamp of approval to its continuation as a religious group. It remains unclear how the Agency for Cultural Affairs came to allow the group to change its name under the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

    In the survey, most lawmakers apparently answered that they had not been aware of the connections with the religious group. It is hard to take their excuses at face value.

    The biggest problem is that the survey did not extend to former Prime Minister Abe, in spite of criticism that he had deep connections to the church.

    There have been testimonies that Abe was coordinating organized support from the church for votes in national elections. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida claimed that "there are limits to grasping the real picture now that the person himself (Abe) has passed away." But surely there are various ways to probe the facts, including by asking Abe's former aides.

    House of Representatives Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, whose relationship with the church has come to light, was also exempted from the survey on the grounds that he has temporarily left the party due to his current role in the Diet.

    The LDP's half-century link to the Unification Church dates back to regime of the late former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi -- Abe's grandfather -- and has continued, centering on the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai, or the current Abe faction. The survey must not sidestep Hosoda and Abe, who headed the largest LDP faction in succession.

    If the LDP is attempting to draw the curtain on the problem simply by claiming it is "severing ties" with the church, there is no way it can restore public trust already lost to the scandal.

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