September 18, 2015 (Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Abe gov't turns its back on public opinion
社説：安保転換を問う 参院委採決強行 民意に背を向けた政権
Controversial legislation opening the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense was rammed through a House of Councillors special committee on security policy on Sept. 17. It was an abnormal way of approving the bills, as it cannot be confirmed whether the panel actually put the bills to a vote amid loud protests from opposition party lawmakers.
The executive branch of the government failed to convince the public that the bills are either constitutional or necessary, even after over 200 hours of deliberations in both houses of the Diet. Nevertheless, the ruling coalition went ahead with the vote while being aware that it had failed to narrow a perception gap with the public over the issue. Therefore, the vote cannot be considered a conclusion arrived at through the democratic process, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has emphasized.
The bills were put to a vote while committee Chairman Yoshitada Konoike could not even be seen behind the pushing, shoving jumble of lawmakers scrumming around his desk in the committee room. As soon as a no-confidence motion against Konoike was voted down and he took a seat, ruling and opposition party legislators rushed to the chairman's seat and surrounded him. What Konoike said when he put the bills to a vote could not be heard. One cannot help but wonder what such a violent vote looked like in the eyes of the public.
The situation in the upper house shifted drastically after a local hearing on the bills was held in Yokohama on Sept. 16. The ruling coalition attempted to conclude a question-and-answer session in the special committee on the bills and put the proposed legislations to a vote, while opposition parties tried to block the move.
Protesters staged demonstrations against the bills in many areas, including in front of the Diet building, on a daily basis, and opinion polls conducted by various media outlets show a large majority opposing passage of the legislation during the current Diet session. As the ongoing Diet session ends on Sept. 27, the ruling coalition is rushing to enact the legislation apparently for fear that demonstrations and other forms of protests against the bills could grow during the five-day holiday period beginning on Sept. 19. If the governing coalition feared public sentiment against the bills, it should have abandoned enacting the bills during the current session.
The Abe Cabinet's biggest mistake in drawing up the security bills, and thereby open by any and all means at the administration's disposal the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, was its failure to hold calm and measured debate on the realities of Japan's changing security environment, including China's rise.
Under parliamentary democracy, legislative processes are left to the discretion of members of the Diet, who are representatives of the public. However, legislators must hold thorough debate on policy issues and try all possible roads to consensus.
Moreover, the security bills affect the basis of the Constitution, which stipulates that Japan must be a peaceful country. The Abe Cabinet twisted the government's 1972 official view that Japan could not exercise the right to collective self-defense to make it possible. Such being the case, many constitutional scholars have concluded that the bills are unconstitutional.
The executive branch also failed to provide a clear explanation of why the development of security legislation is necessary. The government had initially placed special emphasis on minesweeping in the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East as an example of operations that Japan can conduct by exercising the right to collective self-defense, but later stated that it does not specifically assume such a mission will take place. The government's explanation became increasingly unclear as deliberations on the bills progressed.
The governing coalition could have pursued common ground with key opposition parties over the bills through negotiations on modification of the bills. The executive branch submitted 11 security-related bills in a package to the Diet. However, some bills, including one on Japan's participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations, should have been separated from the package.
Prime Minister Abe appears to have lacked any willingness to face the public and try to win their understanding.
When he dissolved the House of Representatives late last year for a snap general election, Prime Minister Abe called it the "Abenomics dissolution," and declared that he would ask voters if he should go ahead with the Abenomics economic policy mix. However, security legislation was characterized as just one of numerous election pledges. Neither did the prime minister place emphasis on the bills during his policy speech at the outset of the current Diet session.
The government had failed to provide a sufficient explanation even before the bills were submitted to the legislative branch, or to show its eagerness to deepen public understanding of the proposed legislation through Diet deliberations.
In 2013, the Abe Cabinet also forcibly enacted the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had not even listed in its election pledges. If the administration had decided that the security measures needed by Japan exceeded the limitations set by the Constitution, the government should have sought constitutional amendments through a national referendum, should have asked the sovereign citizens of this country for their backing.
Scholars, legal experts, local assemblies and people across the generations have launched campaigns against the security legislation. If the government attempts to change basic national policy without making the issue a point of contention during an election campaign, peaceful demonstrations are one of voters' limited means of protest. Aki Okuda, a member of the Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy-s (SEALDs) organization, told a national hearing at the upper house special panel, "It's you members of the ruling bloc that created the current situation." He was right on-point.
Most of the opposition parties are strongly opposed to the bills. It is true that opposition parties played a certain role in grilling the government over the contents of the bills and the administration's attitude toward the issue through Diet debate.
However, opposition parties' failure to block the ruling coalition from putting the bills to a vote is not attributable solely to a lack of numbers in the Diet. The DPJ failed to produce any counter-proposal to the government-sponsored legislation. Despite its criticism of the bills, the DPJ has failed to gain support from voters. It is also true that the government thought that railroading the bills would not deal a fatal blow to the administration, as the opposition parties lack strong public backing.
For Prime Minister Abe, ramming the bills through the upper house panel may recall his grandfather Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi's administration's railroading of a resolution to ratify an amended Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
However, politics that makes light of consensus would split the public. Any political method that places priority on the administration's goals at the cost of public understanding would fundamentally damage the public's trust in politics.
Serious questions remain as to whether laws deeply relevant to basic national policy should be created through such reckless procedures. We once again express stiff opposition to enacting the security legislation.
毎日新聞 2015年09月18日 東京朝刊