Komeito under fire from opposition parties in discussions over Unification Church

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office on Oct. 14.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s coalition partner Komeito has been placed in a difficult position in discussions on the issue of the Unification Church.

Komeito has emphasized its desire to remedy and prevent damage caused by making large donations to the church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. At the same time, the party’s key supporting group is religious organization Soka Gakkai, and it is concerned that excessive regulation will lead to restrictions on the activities of the religious community as a whole.

After the ruling and opposition parties’ discussions on the issue on Friday, a senior official of Komeito’s policy research council, Yoshinori Oguchi, commented on new legislation regulating unreasonable requests for donations. “The government and the ruling bloc would like to work in step and coordinate with each other,” Oguchi said.

Another senior Komeito official said it is important for the party to actively engage in the discussion. “If we don’t deal with it properly, we will be considered similar to [the Unification Church],” the official said.

However, there is a strong sense of caution within the party about how the system in the new law is designed. The party is concerned that it could constrain the practice of making donations to religious organization in general when donations are the main source of their revenue.

In a press conference on Nov. 1, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said: “The operations of religious organizations are supported by donations. It is important to keep a balance between securing that foundation and preventing excessive donations.”

The party is also wary of how the general public will perceive the entire religious community. On Oct. 28, Komeito submitted a proposal on damage relief and prevention regarding the Unification Church. The proposal said, “Prejudice and discrimination against religion in general should not be encouraged.” It also called for the exercise of the right to ask questions of religious organizations under the Religious Corporations Law to be “properly exercised after clearly establishing the criteria.”

Komeito’s stance in the ruling and opposition party discussions has come under fire from the opposition parties.

After the discussions on Friday, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan’s policy research council chief, Akira Nagatsuma, said, “Oguchi has been lethargic [in the discussions].” Shun Otokita, chair of the policy research council of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), also criticized Komeito, saying it “is backward looking.”

Another CDPJ senior official said, “The discussions eventually reveal the impression that Komeito is reluctant to address the issue of [the Unification Church].”

There is a sense of urgency within Komeito as the party prepares for unified local elections next spring, which it considers the main priority. A Komeito official said, “It’s going to be a tough battle if we don’t act.” Komeito is prepared to carefully work out the design of the new law in cooperation with the government and the LDP.