TOKYO (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 Mr 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 Mr Abe for promoting it.

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

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

Mr 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 per cent of respondents said they did not approve of the move against only 16 per cent 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.

New coronavirus cases remain persistently high, prompting 55 per cent of respondents to say they did not approve of the government’s handling of the situation.

On Sunday, Mr Kishida himself tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing him to cancel a trip to an aid conference in Tunisia.

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