Sparks fly after lawmaker linked to Unification Church gets new post

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Daishiro Yamagiwa answers a question at a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Oct. 17.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has appointed as head of its COVID-19 task force Daishiro Yamagiwa, who recently resigned as economic revitalization minister over links to the Unification Church.

However, the appointment has triggered an uproar even within the ruling party, with some LDP members citing it as a major reason for the declining approval rating of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“[In our party] we always place the right person in the right post,” LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi said in response to a question about Yamagiwa’s appointment during a press conference on Monday.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks in Tokyo on Monday.

Yamagiwa’s links to the group officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification came to light after Kishida decided to retain him as economic revitalization minister following a Cabinet reshuffle in August.

Yamagiwa faced a strong backlash when he failed to give adequate explanations about the links during Diet deliberations and subsequent press conferences, leaving Kishida with no choice but to replace him.

Yamagiwa assumed the post of chief of the party’s pandemic task force on Oct. 28, four days after his resignation as economic revitalization minister. The task force is part of the LDP’s Policy Research Council.

The decision to appoint Yamagiwa was reportedly made by LDP Policy Research Council Chair Koichi Hagiuda, but the decision was not well received by LDP executives, including Motegi and party leader Kishida, according to sources.

A source linked to the faction led by LDP Vice President Taro Aso, to which Yamagiwa belongs, said, “If the faction had been consulted, this would not have happened.”

The approval rating of the Kishida Cabinet was 36% in a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted Nov. 4-6, the lowest it has been since the inauguration of his administration.

The LDP leadership’s handling of the situation has raised eyebrows within the party, with many lawmakers citing Yamagiwa’s latest appointment as the reason behind the Cabinet’s plummeting approval rating.

“The timing of Yamagiwa’s appointment immediately after his resignation from the ministerial post was terrible,” a former LDP cabinet member said. “He should have been given time to redeem himself.”

Another LDP lawmaker said, “The situation could trigger doubt among the public about the party’s resolve to sever its ties with the Unification Church.”

The opposition camp has seized upon the issue amid the turmoil.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada told reporters Thursday the appointment was a reflection of the ruling party’s “arrogance.” “A decision that appears to make fun of the public has been made without any sign of embarrassment,” Okada said.

Kazuya Shinba, secretary general of the Democratic Party for the People, said at a press conference Friday, “From this, we can understand the LDP has no intention of implementing measures against the coronavirus.”