SOKA GAKKAI-BACKED KOMEITO NO DIFFERENT FROM UNIFICATION CHURCH
The row is reportedly deepening between the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito over candidate coordination for the next lower house election, with the latter likely to scrap its electoral cooperation with the LDP in all of Tokyo’s constituencies, now increased from 25 to 30. (Under the Public Offices Election Act revised last November to narrow the vote disparity between densely populated and sparsely populated districts, ten new districts were added to Tokyo and four other prefectures while one each was cut from ten other prefectures.) With Komeito boasting a vote-gathering power estimated at roughly 20,000 per district, reelection of five LDP candidates in Tokyo whose margin of votes with their runners-up was less than 20,000 in the last election, is in jeopardy. Komeito is backed by Soka Gakkai, a lay religious organization based on the teachings of the Nichiren Buddhist sect.
If the suspension of Komeito’s cooperation, limited to Tokyo as of May 29, should extend to national districts, 60 to 100 of the LDP’s 262 upper house lawmakers may reportedly have a difficult time getting reelected.
The LDP’s cooperation with its junior partner, which has lasted more than two decades, has become a cornerstone of LDP election politics. Given that the alliance is not serving the interests of the people or the country, it’s time for both parties to seriously consider whether they should continue to band together.
One must recall how embarrassed internationally Japan has frequently been by the actions Komeito has taken against the LDP. One recent example: in December 2021, because of Komeito’s undue objections, our government fell short of explicitly denouncing China’s human rights violations against the Uyghurs. The LDP was in the final stage of drafting a declaration of protest against China as the Chinese government detained Muslim Uyghurs in millions in internment camps, deprived them of their indigenous language and religion, and coerced them into becoming followers of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Chinese method of torturing defiant Uyghurs and putting many of them to death drew stern criticism as genocide from around the world.
The LDP at the time drafted a resolution “to condemn serious human rights violations by Beijing against the Uyghur and other regions.” Keiji Furuya, then acting Chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, recalls that Yuzuru Takeuchi, a senior Komeito member, came up with a note demanding a modification in its wordings, significantly weakening its tone.
For example, Komeito wanted “human rights violations” replaced by “human rights situation,” with “condemn” deleted. With additional modifications that were simultaneously requested, the draft turned out to be a blatant proof of betrayal of its voters by a party that purportedly stands for peace and human rights, noted Furuya.
This type of incident has happened before, but a much bigger problem has been the revision of the constitution. Since Shinzo Abe returned to power to head his second administration in December 2012, the ruling party has constantly secured more than the two-thirds of seats in both chambers of parliament that a constitutional amendment requires. But the government has made no headway on this critical issue.
What a Politician Is All About
The primary responsibility lies with the LDP, the senior coalition partner, needless to say. But Komeito must also be held accountable to a large extent. Faced with the impending threat from China, the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has finally begun to take steps designed to bolster Japan’s security through various means, including declaring that it will increase the nation’s defense outlay to 2% of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by 2027. Obviously, that alone will not be enough to head off a crisis. Among other things, the government must position our Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) as a normal army like all other democratic nations, setting it free from the framework of police law. Komeito, which has persistently been reluctant to revise the constitution, is heavily responsible for this dilemma.
This time around, the LDP declined Komeito’s insistence that its candidates be given two of the five districts newly allocated to Tokyo, including District 28, if its senior coalition partner still wanted electoral cooperation continued. Koichi Hagyuda, Policy Research Council Chairman of the LDP who concurrently heads the party’s Tokyo chapter, heard the views of 21 of the LDP’s lower house lawmakers from Tokyo. All but one of them expressed their determination to seek reelection without Komeito’s cooperation. Based on their resolve, Hagyuda informed party headquarters that in the next election the candidates will be committed to doing their very best as real members of the ruling party. Commented Akihisa Nagashima, a senior LDP lawmaker who formerly was a member of Tokyo District 18 (now District 30):
“I have fought eight national elections and come to realize that a politician should fight for his bill to the last, instead of looking out in all directions wondering how voters will react and eventually backing down. In this vein, I told Hagyuda the LDP should fight the next election without counting on Komeito.”
I spoke to Ms. Miki Yamada, one of the LDP lawmakers in Tokyo whose reelection in a new district has reportedly become difficult because of the revision.
Yamada’s problem is huge. Although the LDP has approved her candidacy in her district (Tokyo 1), what used to be her constituency—Minato Ward—has been incorporated into a new district (Tokyo 7), made up of Shibuya and Minato Wards. Shinjuku is where the headquarters of Soka Gakkai are located, with its members’ attitude significantly impacting candidates. Yamada will have to leave behind in Minato Ward everything she has cultivated over the years—her track record, personal connections, supporters, and mutual understanding with Komeito lawmakers, among other things—and start over from square one in her new constituency.
Yamada is an able politician with a strong sense of nationalism and high policy-making ability. I highly appreciate her track record, which is worthy of a bona fide LDP lawmaker, and seriously question on what criteria the lower house committee has used to redraw the district and put her in this difficult situation. Asked how she appealed her plight to Hagyuda, Yamada had this to say:
“We will not be able to strongly promote our conservative principles if a spineless LDP continues to rely on Komeito. I told him that we can’t stay like this and that we will have the chance to win independent voters if the LDP is determined to fight elections the way it should. Of course, I myself will be walking on thin ice. But this comes down to the fundamental issue of what a politician is all about.”
Strong Intentions of Soka Gakkai
It is worth noting here that many of the LDP lawmakers representing Tokyo, including Yamada, are sympathetic to their Komeito counterparts. The reason, I believe, boils down to the fact that it is not Komeito but Soka Gakkai behind the scenes that has been leading the series of actions obstructing the LDP. It can be said that Hiroshi Sato, dubbed “head of Soka Gakkai’s Political Department,” is using his organization’s power to the hilt in violating Article 20 of our constitution, which stipulates the separation of church and state.
A Digital Asahi article dispatched on May 21 was intriguingly entitled: “‘Are They Taking Things Lightly?’ Top Soka Gakkai Executive Urges LDP to Coordinate Lower House Candidates.” The piece reported on the talks the secretaries-generals and Diet affairs committee chairmen of the coalition partners held in Nagatacho, explaining that Komeito Secretary General Keiichi Ishii—in other words, the party’s leadership—does not have the authority to coordinate candidates and that Komeito’s leaders “simply exemplify the strong intentions of Soka Gakkai, its support base.” The piece further stated: “Actually, a certain Soka Gakkai executive takes control of the coordination.” That this executive is none other than Sato becomes readily obvious as one reads on.
Here, the Unification Church issue and matters pertaining to the Soka Gakkai-Komeito collaboration overlap snugly with each other. When former Prime Minister Abe was gunned down last July, the Asahi and many other media outlets unleashed a barrage of criticism against Abe, focusing on the influence of the Unification Church in the LDP and the issue of separation of church and state, instead of the serious crime of Abe’s assassination. (The assassin stated that he attacked Abe because of the LDP’s ties to the Unification Church.) What we see in front of us today is the grim truth that Soka Gakkai, which has roughly 100 times more followers than the Unification Church, is steering the nation. While the Unification Church has an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 followers, Soka Gakkai is a mammoth religious organization that has garnered approximately 7 million votes in each national election.
What matters is that its deputy chairman is threatening that Soka Gakkai will ban its members from voting for LDP candidates, unless the LDP gives Komeito the new Tokyo District 18. That is why even the Asahi entitled the piece as such. A flagrant violation of our constitution by Soka Gakkai and Komeito is under way.
The LDP would do well to sever its unsavory ties with Komeito and make up its mind to fight future elections resolutely on its own, as Yamada has advocated. That would be where real efforts to build back the trust of voters should begin.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,051 in the June 8, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)