Written by Eileen Lays
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will honor former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a rare state funeral on Tuesday, in a ceremony that has become the focus of public anger over a political scandal and the deepest opposition to his successor, Fumio Kishida.
Abe’s assassination in July sparked a series of revelations about the ties between lawmakers in his once-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church, an organization its critics describe as a cult.
Kishida sought damage control, apologized and promised to sever the LDP’s ties to the church, which was founded in South Korea in the 1950s and is known for mass weddings and extensive fundraising. But the repercussions for the party and its government were enormous.
Police said Abe’s suspected killer accused the church of impoverishing his family. In social media posts before the murder, he blamed Abe for supporting the group.
A spokesperson for the church apologized for any trouble it might have caused to the Japanese people or LDP lawmakers, and said it would crack down on any excessive request for excessive donations. The church also promised a prompt response to complaints or requests for refunds.
The revelation that at least 179 members of the LDP, including several prominent lawmakers, have ties to the church has sent Kishida ratings down to their lowest since he took office nearly a year ago, raising the prospect of weakening his grip on the party, making it difficult He has to fulfill his policy commitments.
About 62% of respondents to a recent survey by the Mainichi newspaper said they were against holding a state funeral for Abe. Among the reasons mentioned by the respondents in the poll was that the former prime minister did not deserve the honor and the high price. The government estimates the cost at $12 million – more than six times a previous estimate – but comments on social media show that most believe it will cost more.
Tomoaki Iwai, an expert on Japanese politics and professor emeritus at Nihon University, said holding a state funeral was “a huge miscalculation” of Kishida. “When he originally decided on the funeral, there were a lot of people in support, but then there were reports of Abe being involved in the Unification Church, and so the opposition grew.”
This public outcry was brought to a horrific spotlight on Wednesday when a man in his 70s set himself on fire near the prime minister’s residence in an apparent protest during the state funeral, Japanese media reported. The man was taken to the hospital conscious.
Kishida justified the celebration by citing Abe’s long tenure and his accomplishments at home and abroad.
Opposition to the funeral reflects how divisive Abe remains in Japanese society. While he is loved by nationalists and many on the right for his muscular defense and pro-market policies, he has been reviled by many who want to keep the country’s peaceful constitution unchanged.
The last fully state-funded funeral for a former prime minister in Japan was that of Shigeru Yoshida in 1967. The ceremony has since been paid for by the state and the Liberal Democratic Party.
Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Isako Sato, who oversaw the return of Okinawa to Japan from American control 50 years ago and was the longest-serving prime minister before Abe, did not have a state funeral when he died in 1975. The government felt there was no legal basis for it.
A private funeral was held for Abe on July 12, four days after his murder. For the general celebration, 6,000 guests will gather at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Hall, including over 190 foreign delegates. About 50 heads of state or government are expected to meet, and media reports say Kishida may meet with about 30 of them.
Canadian Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau, Narendra Modi of India, Anthony Albanese of Australia, as well as US Vice President Kamala Harris are expected to attend.