2016.07.01 Friday 03:50

What’s at stake in the Upper House election

What’s at stake in the Upper House election
By Jiro Yamaguchi

The official campaign for the July 10 Upper House election has begun. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to make continuation of his economic policies a central issue in the race. The opposition parties, on the other hand, are urging voters for their support to stop attempts to revise the Constitution. If the ruling coalition and other forces that rally behind the Abe administration combined win more than two-thirds of the Upper House seats, they will clear the requirement needed to initiate a constitutional amendment — a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Diet — raising the prospect of the Constitution being revised, as Prime Minister Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party have eagerly sought.

An election is an act by the people to give power to the majority party. The majority party would be ethically accused if it breaks its campaign promise. But voters can only punish the party for breaking the campaign promise by depriving the party of its majority in a parliament in the next election. After returning to power in 2012, the Abe administration experienced two national elections — the 2013 Upper House election and the 2014 Lower House race. There are huge discrepancies between what it promised in each of the elections and what it carried out after the races. The Abe administration rammed the state secrets law through the Diet in late 2013, changed the government’s interpretation of the Constitution in a Cabinet decision in 2014 to lift the ban on Japan engaging in collective self-defense and enacted last year the security legislation that implements the Cabinet decision. The LDP did not touch at all on these issues in its election campaigns. Once a party wins a majority in an election, what it will do after the poll is left to the discretion of the party in power.

If the ruling coalition wins the Upper House race this time, the Abe administration will likely insist that his bid for revising the Constitution has been endorsed by the public and embark on efforts for a constitutional amendment. He has in fact been openly saying since the beginning of the year that he would like to change the Constitution, especially the second section of the war-renouncing Article 9 - which says that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” and that “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized” - and that he wishes to secure a two-thirds Upper House majority for that goal. He became more muted on the issue as the July election drew near but in a recent internet program of debate with leaders of other parties, he expressed his desire to begin studying specific amendments to the text of the Constitution.

If indeed the Constitution is to be revised on the basis of the draft amendment released by the LDP in 2012, that will mean that Japan will experiment with what will be quite rare in world history — a regression from a constitutional democracy to an authoritarian regime. Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first prime minister who drafted the prewar Meiji Constitution, that a constitution is meant to restrict the power of the ruler and protect the rights of the people. As for moral teachings that people are supposed to follow, he prepared a different document called the Imperial Rescript on Education. The Meiji Constitution was separated from the ethical/moral rules for the people. The LDP’s draft amendment, however, ventures into the realm of ethics and morals - for example, preaching the importance of members of a family helping each other and respect for traditions. Furthermore, it imposes an obligation on the part of the people to uphold the Constitution. In short, it can constitute a violation of the Constitution if family members fight each other or people destroy traditions. The LDP’s draft would introduce a constitution unparalleled in the civilized world that would allow the state power to interfere with individuals’ way of thinking. It is even more pre-modern than the Meiji Constitution and can only be labeled as authoritarian.

What constitutes the foundations of democratic politics is the integrity of politicians. If those in power opportunistically repeat telling lies, the people’s trust in government will be lost. There are no politicians as remote from the idea of integrity as Prime Minister Abe. As host of the Group of Seven summit last month, he warned that the global economy faced a risk equivalent to what was prevalent before the 2008 Lehman shock. As the campaign began for the Upper House election, he started saying that the economy is in good shape. He also insisted that the aftermath of the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant was “under control,” even though in fact the power company is struggling to stop the outflow of radiation-contaminated groundwater. When his lies and inconsistencies are exposed, Prime Minister Abe never feels ashamed and instead pushes straw man arguments or attacks his critics to escape criticism.

Are we going to let such a person drive the effort to change the basic principles of our political system? If voters do not wish to give the Abe administration a carte blanche, they must express their intention in this election. Japan’s constitutional democracy is facing the most serious crisis ever.

Japan Times, 30 June

2016/07/08 3:40 AM, 兵庫県の一市民 wrote:
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