LDP to spring election candidates: No ties to Unification Church

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers a question at the Budget Committee in the House of Representatives on Oct. 18.

In preparation for unified local elections next spring, the Liberal Democratic Party plans to ask its candidates to comply with the party’s new governance code to ensure that ties have been severed with the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, widely known as the Unification Church.

However, the LDP has more than 10,000 local assembly members and ensuring that all candidates comply with the code poses a challenge.

At a general meeting of the party’s Headquarters for Implementing Reform of the Party held on Friday, the LDP’s Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi said, “From now on, we will have no ties whatsoever with the former Unification Church. We will inform our local organizations of [the governance code] and make sure they comply with it.”

With the religious group in mind, the governance code includes a section titled “Ensuring Responsible Relationships with Organizations and Groups” that stipulates, “We will strictly refrain from any actions that could be misunderstood as receiving undue political influence or promoting their activities.”

Contacts between the Unification Church and the party’s local assembly members have been uncovered one after another, a situation that has become, as a senior party official put it, “a matter of the greatest concern” in the run-up to the spring elections.

The LDP’s election campaigns could be seriously damaged if contacts are discovered after the party has decided to officially recognize or endorse a person as a candidate.

“We want to notify local organizations of the governance code within this month, if possible, so they can refer to it [when approving candidates] for prefectural, municipal and other elections,” said Hiroshi Moriyama, chairman of the party’s Election Strategy Committee, in a lecture held in Tokyo on Friday.

However, specific measures to be taken are left up to the local organizations, leaving some questioning the code’s effectiveness.

According to party officials, some local assembly members are said to be “believers.”

For their part, some local organizations are perplexed, citing the difficulty of asking whether a person is a believer or not, given the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

Even before the decision on the new code was made at the party headquarters, the Federation of Kanagawa Prefecture LDP Branches decided this month to ask candidates for approval or endorsement in the unified local elections to sign a written pledge to comply with the party headquarters notice disseminated in August. The notice instructed members to review their relationship with the former Unification Church. If one does not sign the pledge, the prefectural federation may cancel its approval or endorsement.

“With the written pledge, we will be able to appeal to voters with our ‘spotless integrity,’ which will work in our favor in campaigns,” one prefectural assembly member said.

The party’s Ibaraki prefectural federation has already decided on the candidates to be officially ticketed or recommended for the prefectural assembly elections, which are to be officially announced on Dec. 2. Voting is slated for Dec. 11.

“If such a relationship is pointed out, we will take action. But now that the official announcement of the election is just around the corner, there is no way we can conduct an investigation,” a senior federation official said.

There would be further confusion if each local organization responds to the code differently.

“It isn’t right if the party’s 47 prefectural federations respond in different ways,” said Shigeru Ishiba, a former LDP secretary general. “The party should present its point of view,” he exhorted.