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Japan PM Kishida eyes new law for Unification Church victims as support dips; Komeito wary

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers reporters' questions at his office after a conference with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi on Nov. 8, 2022. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- As the Japanese government eyes a probe into the Unification Church following scrutiny over multiple problems including huge donations, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Nov. 8 that he intends to submit a new bill on relief measures for victims of the religious group's malicious practices during the current Diet session.

    The same day the national government compiled standards for exercising its authority to question the Unification Church under the provisions of the Religious Corporations Act. Exercising this right will enable a probe into the controversial group, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Following these procedures, the government will consider asking a court to issue an order to dissolve the religious group.

    Prime Minister Kishida, who had been taking a wait-and-see stance over the Unification Church issue, showed strong determination to address it on Nov. 8, when he told reporters at his office, "I'd like to compile the government's views into a bill, and submit it to the Diet."

    Discussion on relief measures among ruling and opposition parties began on Oct. 21. The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) pushed for the introduction of a new law incorporating a system for families of victims and other third parties to request that donations be returned. They also sought regulation of large donations made under the influence of mind control.

    Meanwhile, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito kept a careful stance, claiming that the opposition parties' proposal risks violating the Constitution, and did not even present draft provisions requested by the opposition camp.

    The LDP leadership's original plan for the current Diet session was to exchange an agreement through documentation with opposition parties, before submitting a bill for the new law to next year's ordinary Diet session or some time afterwards. However, the lack of countermeasures from both the government and ruling coalition invited strong criticism, and the Cabinet approval rating dropped and remained low for a prolonged period. Against this backdrop, opposition parties have been demanding a meeting among political party leaders, and have hinted they could submit a no-confidence motion against the Kishida Cabinet.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, holds a meeting with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Nov. 8, 2022. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

    Late last week, a working-level official involved in the discussion between ruling and opposition parties advised the LDP leadership "to take action toward a new law or else the opposition parties and public opinion will not be subdued." An LDP affiliate expressed a sense of crisis, saying, "If this problem gets shelved until next year's ordinary Diet session, the Unification Church will be at the center of attention in the nationwide local elections next spring. We want to attend to the Consumer Contract Act and the bill for the new law during the extraordinary Diet session."

    Meanwhile, Kishida took great pains to provide an explanation to Komeito, whose support base is the religious group Soka Gakkai. The LDP's coalition partner has shown concern that creating a new law would lead to restrictions on the activities of all religious groups.

    Preferences for a bill submitted by the government, which the Cabinet Legislation Bureau will inspect for its consistency with the Constitution, eventually rose within Komeito. On the morning of Nov. 8, the party approved the government's plan to submit the bill during a meeting of its standing executive committee held in the Diet.

    While the government hastens to create the bill, it does not plan to include a definition of "mind control" or set a cap on donation amounts, in spite of requests from the opposition parties. An individual close to Komeito said, "The prime minister only mentioned submitting the bill during the current Diet session, and didn't mention it being passed into law." If negotiations within the ruling coalition and government do not proceed smoothly, it is possible that the bill's enactment will be put off until the beginning of next year.

    (Japanese original by Aoi Hanazawa and Shu Hatakeyama, Political News Department)

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