2015.08.28 Friday 14:46

Democracy 70 years after the war's end

  As Japan greeted the 70th anniversary of its defeat in World War II in the midst of growing opposition to the government-proposed security legislation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must have realized that he has to run his administration under a variety of constraints.


One of such constraints is international opinion. Initially, Prime Minister Abe appeared to be resolved to issue a war anniversary statement that reflects his own perception of Japan’s modern history. However, it was obvious that a right-wing viewpoint of history, which tends to deny Japan’s responsibility for its aggression and colonial rule, was not to be acceptable not just to Asian countries but also to Western nations. For Japan to live as a member of the international community, the prime minister could not choose to publicize a self-righteous perception of history. As a result, the statement that Abe made on Aug. 14 deviated from his own personal sentiments and its message became weak because of its lengthy text. The prime minister did use an expression that apparently reflected his own thought — that Japan must not let its future generations be predestined to apologize for that war, with which they have nothing to do. He may have wanted to dispel the chagrin at having had to refer in the statement to the wartime aggression and the “women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured.” As long as he and right-wing politicians close to him continue to try to deny that Japan had waged a war of aggression and justify its colonial rule, the new generations of Japanese will have to keep apologizing to the people of Asia. I wonder if the prime minister understands the logical structure of this problem.

Another — and even larger — constraint is the popular will. As long as Japan is a democracy, the acts of those in power will obviously be constrained by the will of the people. It was in fact an extraordinary situation that the prime minister, until just recently, did whatever he wanted on the strength of the strong popular approval ratings of his Cabinet. Abe might have preferred to paint the 70th war anniversary statement with his own colors if the approval ratings had stayed high. But he had no other choice but to take a low posture now that public criticism of his administration has gained momentum. And while he extended the Diet session through the end of September in order to secure enactment of the security legislation, he is reportedly ready to shelve the passage of his other controversial bills, including the one to exempt some office workers from work-hour regulations. This may indicate that the popular will is serving as a brake on the administration to some extent.

On July 1 last year, before Abe’s Cabinet made a decision the same month to justify Japan’s exercising the right to collective self-defense, I joined hands with other scholars in political science and constitutional law and launched a movement to protect constitutionalism — the Group for Constitutional Democracy. Its members are pushing the movement with a sense of crisis that a series of moves by the Abe administration threaten to destroy constitutionalism, which constrains political power with the Constitution. To be honest, the changes in public opinion since June this year went beyond our imagination. In prewar Japan, political parties used the term constitutionalism to oppose the dominance by bureaucrats and the oligarchy that ruled the country since the Meiji Restoration. After being pushed to oblivion for some time as postwar democracy prevailed, the term is back in circulation —triggered by the controversy over the security legislation.

 Our trial and error in pursuit of full democracy in this country over the past 20 years or so led us to rediscover the crude reality — that no other political party except the Liberal Democratic Party is yet capable of running the government. However, the LDP itself has lost the breadth and prudence that it used to possess, and is now dominated by politicians with little experience as lawmakers, whose words and actions border on those of right-wingers on the Internet sphere. And these lawmakers are trying to push through the Diet a set of bills that are labeled by a majority of constitutional scholars as unconstitutional.

Under such a situation, we may not have the luxury of advocating a system where political parties take turns running the government, but will need to return to the bottom line of constitutionalism, that is, putting a brake on political power by confining it in a certain frame. It is not that such a view is shared by citizens who take to the streets to voice opposition to the security legislation. But I am hopeful that the agenda of putting abrake on political power will gain sympathy and support from a broad range of citizens.

The movement for constitutionalism would not be sustained if it ends up being a game of whack-a-mole against arrogant leaders in power — a process that will be tiring for those who pursue the movement. We need to establish a custom in which those in power who ignore the Constitution will be severely punished by voters in elections. But that will also require creating an alternative political entity that can take the place of the LDP. I grew a bit tired after saying the same thing repeatedly ever since the Democratic Party of Japan lost power three years ago. Still I need to keep saying that. The opposition forces should work together to create a minimum set of agenda on important policy issues that can represent the energized citizens who are active in protecting the Constitution and peace. The Upper House election next year will be a crucial test for survival of constitutional democracy in this country.

Japan Times, August 26

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