Japan PM Kishida's support tumbles, hit by questions over church and COVID

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2022. Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

TOKYO, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Support for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government has tumbled, battered by questions about the ruling party's ties to the Unification Church and its response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a public opinion poll.

Links to the church founded in South Korea in the 1950s and famous for its mass weddings have become a headache for Kishida since July 8, when former premier Shinzo Abe was shot and his suspected killer said his mother was bankrupted by the church and blamed Abe for promoting it.

According to a survey done at the weekend by the Mainichi Shimbun daily, Kishida's support fell to 36% from 52% a month ago, the lowest since he took office last October.

Those who believed ties between the Unification Church and Kishida's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were either "an extreme problem" or "something of a problem" hit 87%. Only 4% believed it was not a problem at all.

Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Aug. 10 and removed some cabinet members with ties to the church in an attempt to bolster support, but 68% of respondents said they did not approve of the move, against only 16% who did.

"Regarding the issues related to the Unification Church, we should pay enough attention to relationships with organisations that are socially criticised, so people won't have concerns," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a regular news conference.

Speaking to reporters later on Monday via an electronic screen after contracting COVID-19, Kishida said there was no connection on an organisational level between the LDP and the Unification Church, adding that lawmakers needed to make clear and explain their connections with the religious group.

He declined to comment on individual polling figures.

New coronavirus cases remain persistently high, prompting 55% of respondents to say they did not approve of the government's handling of the situation. On Sunday, Kishida himself tested positive, forcing him to cancel a trip to an aid conference in Tunisia. read more

Kishida planned to be back in the office on Aug. 31, he said.

On the question of the state funeral for Abe set for Sept. 27, which will be paid for by the government, 53% said they were against the idea.

Reporting by Elaine Lies, Ju-min Park and Sakura Murakami; Editing by Stephen Coates and Ed Osmond

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