Kishida says govt to submit bill on damage by religious groups to current Diet session

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, at the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday, announces his intention to submit to the Diet a bill dealing with problems such as excessive donations demanded by religious organizations.

In connection with issues involving the Unification Church, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated Tuesday that the government will submit a new bill to the Diet to prevent damage, including large donations demanded by religious organizations, and to provide relief to those who have fallen victim to such organizations.

“The government will do its utmost to submit the bill to the Diet as soon as possible, aiming for the current Diet session,” he told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office. This is the first time that Kishida has stated his intention to submit the legislation to the current Diet session as a government-proposed bill.

Kishida explained that the government will consider such matters to be contained in the proposed law as a ban on socially unacceptable malicious solicitation of donations, a system to make it possible to cancel such donations and also demand damages, and a mechanism to provide relief for damage inflicted on children and spouses of those involved with such donations.

Prior to his statement to reporters, Kishida met with Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of Komeito, the Liberal Democratic Party’s ruling coalition partner, at the Prime Minister’s Office and agreed on these government policies.

Kishida emphasized, “We will do our utmost, with the cooperation of the ruling and opposition parties, to get the bill passed into law as soon as possible.”

The government hopes to gain a broad understanding of the issue through such talks, including four-party working-level talks involving the LDP, Komeito, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).

Kishida also revealed that he had informally met with victims of the Unification Church, and said, “I heard directly about their horrific experiences, and as a politician, I felt as though my heart would break.”

In addition to the proposed new law, the government plans to submit to the current Diet session a bill to amend the Consumer Contract Law and other legislation. The main purposes of the bills will be to ease the conditions for applying regulations to fraudulent sales of goods or services claimed to bring spiritual benefits and to extend the period in which contracts can be canceled.

Criticism spurs Kishida on

Kishida expressed his eagerness to submit a new bill to the current Diet session as he aims to demonstrate his posture of vigorously tackling issues linked to the Unification Church, which is officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, amid the strengthening headwinds buffeting his administration. The ruling coalition parties intend to get the bill passed into law in the current Diet session, and the focus will be on how much cooperation they can win from the opposition parties.

To enact the new law, the government in mid-October established a study team involving personnel from the Consumer Affairs Agency, the Justice Ministry and others. At first, working-level officials voiced concerns that it would take time to draft a bill that touches on freedom of religion. There was even talk of putting off submitting the bill until next year’s ordinary Diet session.

However, amid almost daily criticism of the “slow response,” a sense of crisis grew within the government and the ruling parties.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet’s approval rating dropped below 40% in a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion survey conducted on Friday through Sunday. More than 70% of respondents said the new legislation should be passed in the current Diet.

LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi advised Kishida by phone, saying, “It is better to get it done within this year.”

Meanwhile, Toshiaki Endo, chairperson of the LDP’s General Council, said at a press conference on Tuesday, “There is very strong demand from the public that the bill be submitted [to the current Diet].” A senior LDP official said, “Unless we showed our willingness to produce results during this Diet session, we would have left ourselves open to criticism.”

Komeito, for which Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai is a major supporting entity, apparently had been cautious about submitting the bill. To win the party’s understanding in advance, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno met with Komeito’s Secretary General Keiichi Ishii on Monday, while Kishida held a meeting with Komeito leader Yamaguchi on Tuesday.

The LDP hopes to gain the cooperation of opposition parties in the days ahead, in order to pass the bill in the current Diet session. At a press conference on Tuesday, Motegi, referring to the four-party working-level talks with Ishin and the CDPJ, said, “I hope they will begin the process of finding common ground and accelerate their deliberations.”

Some LDP officials, believing it will be difficult to obtain the agreement of all opposition parties, called for the party to aim at having the bill passed through the current Diet session by winning over just some opposition parties, including the Democratic Party for the People.