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Japan Reverts to Fascism

Tsunami in Japanese politics.
This week, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners won a two-thirds majority in the legislature’s upper house, to go along with their two-thirds majority in the lower house. A two-thirds majority is required in each house to begin the process of amending Japan’s constitution. And amending the constitution is one of the central planks in the LDP’s platform.
The constitution was imposed on Japan by the United States after the Second World War; it has never been amended. Why should it be amended now? As Bloomberg reports, the LDP has pointed out that “several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed.”
What has the LDP got against the “Western European theory of natural human rights”? you might ask. Well, dozens of LDP legislators and ministers — including Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — are members of a radical nationalist organization called Nippon Kaigi, which believes (according to one of its members, Hakubun Shimomura, who until recently was Japan’s education minister) that Japan should abandon a “masochistic view of history” wherein it accepts that it committed crimes during the Second World War.
In fact, in Nippon Kaigi’s view, Japan was the wronged party in the war.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Nippon Kaigi believes that “Japan should be applauded for liberating much of East Asia” during WW2, that the “Tokyo War Crimes tribunals were illegitimate,” and that the rape of Nanking was either “exaggerated or fabricated.” It denies the forced prostitution of Chinese and Korean “comfort women” by the Imperial Japanese Army, believes Japan should have an army again — something outlawed by Japan’s current constitution — and believes that it should return to worshipping the emperor.
When, in the wake of Nazi-level war crimes, the U.S. forced Japan to become a liberal democracy, it also forced Japan’s emperor to issue the following statement denying his divinity: “The ties between us and our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon legend and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world.”
And members of Nippon Kaigi are still mad.
In 2013, at a Nippon Kaigi party celebrating Shinzo Abe’s new appointments to his cabinet — 15 of whose 18 members were Nippon Kaigi-niks — the old imperial “Rising Sun” flag was flown, pledges to “break away from the postwar regime” were made, and the (very short and controversial) imperial national anthem was sung. The lyrics are addressed to the emperor:
“May your reign Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations, Until the pebbles grow into boulders Lush with moss.”
The LDP’s draft for an amended constitution would eliminate the prohibition on imbuing religious organizations with “political authority,” clearing the way for the return of state Shintoism and emperor worship.
The draft would also repeal the provision that the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes,” along with the provision that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” (Not that Japan has, hitherto, been too strict about this particular rule: According to the Credit Suisse Military Strength Index, Japan currently has the fourth-strongest military in the world, behind only the U.S., Russia, and China.)
The new constitution also repeals the right to free speech, adding a clause stating that the government can restrict speech and expression that it sees as “interfering [with] public interest and public order.”
(In fact, Japan’s current government has been working on the free-speech problem for a few years now: According to the Japan Times, in 2014, the internal affairs and communications minister warned that broadcasters could be shut down if they aired programming that the government deemed was “politically biased.” The director of Japan’s public broadcasting corporation — a friend of Prime Minister Abe — has said publicly that it was his policy that the NHK (Japan’s BBC) “should not deviate from the government’s position in its reporting.”
In just the last five years, Japan’s press freedom — as ranked by Reporters without Borders — has fallen from 11th globally to 72nd.
The new draft constitution adds a warning that “the people must be conscious of the fact that there are responsibilities and obligations in compensation for freedom and rights.” These “obligations” include the mandate to “uphold the [new] constitution” and “respect the national anthem” quoted above. Also that “the people must comply with the public interest and public order,” and “the people must obey commands from the state” in times of “emergency.”
But not everyone is bound by these obligations: The Emperor is exempt from the requirement to uphold the constitution. Likewise, the Emperor is required, under the new constitution, to seek “advice” from the cabinet — but not, as he is currently required, to seek “advice and approval.”
If the new constitution is approved by two-thirds of each house of the Japanese legislature, its adoption will be voted on in a national referendum requiring a simple majority. Who can say if 51 percent of Japanese voters would vote against their own civil rights? On the one hand, it seems absurd; on the other, they did give the LDP’s coalition a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers.
Five years ago, President Obama called for a foreign-policy “pivot to Asia.” With China seizing and militarizing the South China Sea, and North Korea testing delivery systems for its new nuclear weapons, it would probably be a good idea — “pivot to Asia”–wise — not to stand idly by while our most important Asian ally, and the second-richest democracy in the world, reverts to fascism.


July 17, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | 1 Comment

Ultraconservative lobby Nippon Kaigi backs constitution revision

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TOKYO — An influential political lobby in Japan will do its utmost to capitalize on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s election victory and push for the constitution to be revised to allow a more active military, the group’s chairman said Wednesday.

Abe’s gains in the upper house in last weekend’s election mean his party can cobble together the crucial two-thirds majority in both houses to propose a revision and put it to a referendum, if it gets support from lawmakers in other parties open to the changes.

Tadae Takubo, chairman of Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, said the war-renouncing constitution that makes Japan’s defense “defective” needs to be corrected.

It’s time to grow out of Japan’s “silly” postwar goal of becoming an economic power with lightweight military, and seek to restore Japan with more self-respect, traditional family values and principles under the emperor as head of nation, said Takubo, international politics professor at Kyorin University.

This is a golden opportunity that has never happened before. If I were in the prime minister’s position, I will go all out to accomplish a revision during the current term,” Takubo said. His organization will provide full support to push forward the drive, he said.

For Abe and his ultra-conservative supporters, like Nippon Kaigi, the 1947 constitution is the legacy of Japan’s defeat in World War II and an imposition of the victor’s world order and values. The charter renounces the use of force in international conflicts and limits Japan’s military to self-defense only, although Japan has a well-equipped modern army, navy and air force that work closely with the United States, its top ally.

Abe’s ruling party proposed revisions to the constitution in 2012 that intended to restore traditions similar to prewar-era family values centered on the emperor, and to put national interest before individuals’ basic human rights in some cases. It was never formally submitted to parliament.

Abe did not make the constitution a focus of the election, but said on Monday he takes Sunday’s victory as a public endorsement for a revision, pledging to launch a parliamentary committee to discuss which articles to change and how.

Founded in 1997, Nippon Kaigi has strived to revise the constitution to restore traditional gender roles, increase imperial worshipping and put public interest before individuals. The group is believed to be behind Abe’s comeback in 2012 and has become increasingly influential.

Their grass-roots movement backed by Shinto shrines and other new religious groups has a growing membership that reportedly includes many of Abe’s Cabinet ministers and hundreds of national and local lawmakers.

The organization holds lectures and other events to spread its views and defends Japan’s wartime atrocities while accusing China and South Korea of lying or exaggerating their suffering. It also believes the U.S. postwar occupation brainwashed Japanese with guilt and that education since the war was self-degrading.

July 14, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Asahi exit poll: 49% support constitutional amendment


Forty-nine percent of voters in the July 10 Upper House election said the Constitution should be amended, according to an Asahi Shimbun exit poll.

The survey also showed that 44 percent were opposed to constitutional amendment, a goal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

However, the poll found that revising the Constitution was not the central issue for voters when deciding which party to support in the Upper House election.

It showed that 70 percent of voters in favor of constitutional amendment said they cast their ballots for the four pro-revision parties–Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, junior coalition partner, Komeito, Initiatives from Osaka and the Party for Japanese Kokoro–in the proportional representation portion.

However, 40 percent of those who said they oppose revision also voted for the four parties.

By age group, 55 percent of voters in their 30s supported revision, while 42 percent said it is not necessary.

Voters in their 70s were divided over the issue, with 40 percent backing revision and 43 percent opposed.

Of voters who cast ballots for the LDP, 32 percent did not support revision, while the comparable figure for Komeito, Initiatives from Osaka and the Party for Japanese Kokoro, totaled 36 percent, 35 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Apparent discrepancies in voters’ stance on constitutional amendment and the parties they actually voted for means revision was not the deciding factor in making up their minds.

According to the poll, only 14 percent named revision as the most important issue in deciding their vote.

The issue cited by most of the voters, at 30 percent, was the economy and employment, followed by social security, at 22 percent.

Of voters who backed the LDP in the proportional representation portion, 5 percent said amending the Constitution was the most important issue. The rate for those who replied similarly was 4 percent for Komeito, 10 percent for Initiatives from Osaka and 15 percent for the Party for Japanese Kokoro.

Twenty-three percent of voters who voted for the main opposition Democratic Party and 34 percent who voted for the opposition Japanese Communist Party said that constitutional amendment was the most important issue.

The exit polls were conducted at 3,660 polling stations around Japan, and 182,646 valid responses were received.

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Japan could change pacifist constitution after Shinzo Abe victory

Prime minister wins upper house elections, giving his coalition enough seats to push ahead with controversial changes


Shinzo Abe has called for a debate on rewriting Japan’s constitution, including an article renouncing war

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has called for a debate on rewriting the country’s pacifist constitution after his Liberal Democratic party [LDP] and its allies secured a supermajority in upper house elections on Sunday.

The LDP, its junior coalition partner Kōmeitō, and several like-minded smaller parties and independent MPs now control two-thirds of the 242 seats in the upper house. The ruling coalition already has a similar majority in the more powerful lower house.

Conservative MPs have enough seats to push ahead with constitutional changes, including scrapping the war-renouncing article 9 – a prospect that has caused alarm in China and among many Japanese who value their country’s postwar pacifism. Any amendments passed in parliament would then require approval by a simple majority in a nationwide referendum.

Abe had studiously ignored the constitution issue during the upper house campaign, insisting that the election was an opportunity to reaffirm public support for his troubled economic policy, as he sought to capitalise on the lack of a credible alternative offered by the opposition.

The LDP won 56 of the 121 seats – half the upper house total – being contested, while Kōmeitō secured 14 seats. Abe had set a goal of winning a combined 61 seats.

But speaking soon after his landslide victory, Abe said his party had always been committed to rewriting the postwar constitution. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted him as saying that he hoped deliberations by expert panels and a deeper public debate would lead to a consensus on which parts of the constitution needed changing.

The most controversial move would be a revision of article 9 to allow Japan’s self-defence forces to act more like a conventional army. The clause forbids Japan from using force to settle international disputes and restricts its land, air and naval forces to a strictly defensive role.

Rewriting the constitution, imposed by the US occupation authorities after the second world war, has been the ideological driving force behind Abe and other conservatives who believe it unfairly restricts Japan’s ability to respond to new threats such as international terrorism, an increasingly assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.

However, Abe risks losing the political capital he has built over the past three and a half years if he is seen to be neglecting the economy in favour of constitutional reform.

“The key question will be whether he can carry out structural reforms,” said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, chief strategist at Mizuho Securities. “If Abe fails to do so, despite the political freedom he has gained, that will be negative for foreign investors’ appetite for Japanese stocks.”

Xinhua, China’s official news agency, described Sunday’s election result as a threat to regional stability, as it had given MPs who support constitutional reform an unprecedented advantage.

“With Japan’s pacifist constitution at serious stake and Abe’s power expanding, it is alarming both for Japan’s Asian neighbours, as well as for Japan itself, as Japan’s militarisation will serve to benefit neither side,” Xinhua said in a commentary.

Some analysts played down the prospects for change, noting that the loose collection of pro-reform parties and independents had yet to reach a consensus on which parts of the constitution should be altered.

“It’s the first time to have two-thirds in both houses of parliament, but you can’t find any issue on which the two-thirds can agree,” said Gerry Curtis, professor emeritus at Columbia University.

But Curtis added: “With these numbers … he [Abe] is going to want to see what he can achieve. That means less attention to the economy and a lot of spinning over the constitution.”

The LDP’s dovish coalition partner, Kōmeitō, is cautious about any change that would expand the role of the military, while the public remains deeply divided. An exit poll conducted by the Asahi on Sunday showed that 49% of voters supported constitutional revision, with 44% opposed.

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | 1 Comment

How rights and liberties may be downsized under the LDP


A revisionist path: Men walk past a poster for the July 10 Upper House election with the image of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo. The slogan on the poster reads: ‘Forward with strength this path.’


During a recent TV program, the vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, Masahiko Komura, insisted “there is zero possibility” that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would revise war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution even if the ruling coalition wins a two-thirds majority in the upcoming Upper House elections. But why believe him? Abe has made clear his intentions of promoting constitutional revision. Until he publicly pledges not to do so, voters are right to be wary.

Komura wants to bamboozle voters because he understands that public support for revising the Constitution is weak. An NHK poll in June indicated only 26 percent of Japanese citizens support his plans and only 11 percent think it is a priority. This lack of enthusiasm is also evident in a Kyodo poll in June indicating that 46.6 percent of all Upper House candidates oppose revising the Constitution, while only 34.6 percent support doing so. Broken down by party, 72.1 percent of the LDP favors revision while no candidate from coalition partner Komeito does, and only 28 percent of Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) candidates support revision. Virtually all the candidates of the Democratic Party and all of those fielded by the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party oppose revision.

Significantly, despite Abe’s enthusiasm, only 11.7 percent of all candidates think constitutional revision is a priority, according to the Kyodo poll.

DP leader Katsuya Okada has pointed out that Abe doesn’t seem to understand the role of the Constitution, which is to restrain state powers and protect the people’s civil liberties.

Where would Okada ever get that idea? Perhaps he glanced through the LDP’s 2012 draft constitution or the Q&A pamphlet the party distributed to explain its plans.

Indeed, the LDP seeks to fundamentally shift the relationship between the people and the state, imposing duties on citizens while lifting curbs on state powers. The LDP pamphlet asserts that there are “big” and “small” rights after a state of emergency is declared. The prime minister can declare a state of emergency in the event of a natural disaster, an armed attack by external forces or social disorder due to domestic turmoil, and the Cabinet could then suspend these small rights if they are deemed a threat to the undefined “public interest and public order.” So-called big rights are specified as those related to lives, bodies and property. Exactly what the mingy freedoms are is left to our imagination, but the implication is that they are a trivial but necessary sacrifice that must be made in service of the indispensable.

The LDP has cited the recent Kumamoto earthquake as an example of why it would be useful to have such a provision to facilitate relief and recovery efforts, but it is not clear that any problems in such operations had anything to do with the government’s inability to temporarily suspend civil liberties and human rights, or to concentrate power in the Cabinet. A state of emergency provision means that the government would have authority to suspend constitutional rights and bypass the Diet.

Good idea? Well it is troubling that the LDP believes that certain rights not only trump others, but can suspend them. The LDP is arguing that it may be necessary to sometimes put the Constitution on hold and, other times, to enforce it.

How would restrictions on human rights help in an emergency and what civil liberties might get in the way? This raises more questions: What are the criteria for deciding, and who gets to decide, that social turmoil has reached the tipping point for suspension of civil liberties and constitutional freedoms?

In the May 26 edition of the Mainichi Shimbun, the LDP says, “Some are of the opinion that fundamental human rights should not be restricted even in times of emergency. But we believe that it is possible that in order to protect big human rights, such as people’s lives, bodies and properties, we could be forced to place restrictions on smaller human rights.”

The notion that “small” human rights exist in the Constitution and can be violated with impunity is a novel concept. Constitutional scholars do not differentiate between rights by privileging some over others and distinguishing the vital from the inconsequential. Such a regressive view is antithetical to constitutionalism because it means that the government decides on an ad hoc basis what counts and what doesn’t, whereas a constitution is supposed to establish the legal foundations and rules through thick and thin.

Freedom of expression is likely one of the smaller rights that would be jettisoned in a state of emergency. This is the basis of press freedom in the Japanese Constitution. It is hard to imagine how a functioning democracy can exist without freedom of expression or how that small right would be detrimental in an emergency. How would its sacrifice protect property rights and lives? How would freedom of expression threaten such rights?

The LDP’s concern about pesky civil liberties like freedom of thought and conscience or freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution reflects discomfort with the Western values and notion of “natural rights” that the U.S. wrote into the text in 1947. The LDP is eager to claw back rights for the state that the current Constitution bestows on citizens. The foreign DNA of the current Constitution rankles conservatives, but even former prime minister — and longtime pro-revision politician — Yasuhiro Nakasone now believes that, during the decades since it was written, the spirit and text have been assimilated by society. He sees no pressing need for revision.

Essentially, the only thing that the proposed state-of-emergency proviso allows the state to do that it can’t do now is suspend constitutional rights and effect what amounts to a coup d’etat. It is about boosting powers of the state in the name of protecting big human rights and suppressing dissent or criticism of the state. Rather than Western “natural rights,” the LDP is pushing “natural duties” that are allegedly in line with Japanese traditions and values. It means writing the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights out of the Constitution by renouncing the preamble of Japan’s current Constitution, which states:

“Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded.” Further on, it reads, “laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.”

Preserving these commitments and derailing the LDP’s revision juggernaut seem reason enough to vote, but my guess is that low turnout persists because citizens find politics in Japan so uninspiring and dispiriting. With a supermajority in both houses, Abe will seek to revise the Constitution without being able to claim a mandate to do so.

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment