The Japanese government has decided to use some 250 million yen (about $1.8 million) from the state budget reserve fund for fiscal year 2022 to cover the full cost of the September 27 state funeral. of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
If the government goes ahead with this decision, there is no way to gain public understanding.
It has long been customary for former Prime Ministers of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to be mourned at joint funerals organized by the Cabinet and the party. The upcoming state funeral will be the first of its kind since that of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida in 1967.
Questions about why a state funeral is needed to mourn Abe’s death only grow stronger.
At least 53% of respondents to a Mainichi Shimbun opinion poll opposed a state funeral for Abe, while only 30% were in favour. What appears to be behind the weak support is the series of revelations of deep ties between Abe and the Unification Church, officially the Federation of Families for World Peace and Unification, following his shooting death in July.
First, the planned state funeral has no clear legal basis.
While the government plans to hold state funerals as a ‘state ceremony’ stipulated in the law establishing the Cabinet Office, the law has so far been applied to Imperial Family events, and never to funerals of politicians. As the law has no definition of what constitutes a “state ceremony”, it could be applied arbitrarily by the regime at the time.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pointed to the longevity of the Abe administration – the longest in Japan’s constitutional era – as the reason for the state funeral. However, the historic verdict on Abe as prime minister, who stepped down nearly two years ago, has yet to be delivered.
The government should not force the public to praise Abe or express sympathy for him. It is only natural that the government decided not to seek the cooperation of local governments and school boards to express such sentiments at Abe’s state funeral.
Kishida aims to set the stage for “funeral diplomacy”, with heads of state visiting Japan, but there is no need to have a funeral to pursue diplomacy.
The joint funeral of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who died suddenly in 2000, was attended by US President Bill Clinton and later South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, among many other national leaders. Separate summit talks also took place on the sidelines of the event.
Prime Minister Kishida was unwilling to answer the public’s questions and doubts about Abe’s state funeral sincerely.
“I will carefully explain the matter on various occasions,” Kishida said. Yet he dodged a demand from opposition parties to quickly convene a special session of the Diet, and there was no deliberation on the state funeral.
On the issue of the Unification Church, currently the main source of public distrust of politics, the government has delayed any substantive response and shown no signs that it is serious about the elimination of the negative effects of the political ties of the Church.
If the government were to proceed without debate with preparations for the state funeral, it would only deepen the division of public opinion. Prime Minister Kishida has the responsibility to create an appropriate national environment, including how the state funeral should be conducted.