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OPPOSITION PANEL HEAD SPEAKS

LDP wants to cut freedoms: DPJ

by Reiji Yoshida

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe doesn’t understand the basics of the Constitution and wants to use it to reduce human rights, not protect them, according to the head of a constitutional study panel for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Lawyer Yukio Edano, a House of Councilors member, says the Constitution makes up the fundamental laws and principles for the government and society — and defines to what extent the executive, legislative and judicial branches are separated in Japan.

But Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is trying to push more rules on the people, to up their responsibility to the state and society, instead of regulating those who hold power, Edano said in a recent interview.

“Laws are to be applied to the people, while the Constitution is to be applied to those exercising the power,” figured Edano, who has worked as DPJ’s key negotiator with the LDP on constitutional revision issues.

The DPJ, the main opposition party, wants three main changes to the Constitution. It wants the charter to promote the decentralization of power, to increase control over state bureaucrats and to clarify in war-renouncing Article 9 what Japan is allowed to do to defend itself, Edano said.

“The current Constitution doesn’t clearly set the division of power between the central and local governments,” Edano said. “It doesn’t mention any control over the power of Kasumigaseki (central Tokyo bureaucracy hub) bureaucrats, either.”

He said the LDP appears to be trying to bolster state control over the people by revising parts of the Constitution.

Some LDP lawmakers say the 60-year-old Constitution gives too many rights and freedoms to the people, and often results in individuals exerting their rights at the cost of society as a whole, thus abusing the system.

Lawmakers often cite the difficulty the government has had since the end of the war in expropriating private land for key public projects, like major expressways and Narita airport. They say that resistance from the public to projects has delayed construction and greatly pushed up government costs.

LDP wants to amend Article 12 to state that the people “shall have freedom and be obliged to exercise their rights in ways that would not go against the public interest and public order.”

Edano criticized Abe’s attempt to make the Constitution a major issue in the Upper House election in July, saying this confrontational approach is making any revisions to the charter in the near future unlikely.

Since any amendment requires the support of two-thirds of the vote in the two Diet chambers — as stipulated in the Constitution — Edano said revisions should only go to the Diet once there is a consensus across party lines.

The DPJ lawmaker said his party has not yet come up with any detailed article-by-article proposal to revise the Constitution, including Article 9, the most contentious.

Now is not the time to start hammering out detailed changes to articles, Edano said, as they should only be done in the last stage once there is agreement in general on changes. He said in this way amendments will get the necessary two-thirds majority in both Diet chambers.

The DPJ already has a basic security policy consensus.

In a policy paper compiled in 2005 on the party’s basic ideas for constitutional revision, the DPJ says it wants the country to continue its pacifist policy but allow Japan to participate in collective security deployments endorsed by the U.N.

Washington has been pushing for closer military cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military and many conservative, pro-U.S. politicians, particularly in the LDP, want the government to change its interpretation of the Constitution to allow the SDF to come to the aid of the U.S. military should it need help.

Edano did not directly discuss military cooperation with the U.S., but said the DPJ does not agree with the government’s long-standing interpretation of Article 9 regarding collective defense, which is worded as “collective self-defense.”

The government’s position on the issue is that while Article 51 of the U.N. Charter allows member states to participate in “collective self-defense,” Article 9 prohibits Japan from exercising that option.

It does, however, interpret the article as allowing Japan to defend itself, which led to the founding of the Ground, Air and Maritime Self-Defense Forces. This right is also enshrined in Article 51 as “individual self-defense.”

Edano argued that U.N. Article 51′s separation of the right to individual vs. collective defense is meaningless.

“In international law, a (clear) line has not been drawn between the collective self-defense and individual self-defense,” Edano argued. “It’s nonsense to separate the two.”

Under the current government interpretation, Japan can only use force when a threat is imminent and there is no other alternative, and only the minimum necessary force is permissible.

Japan must be allowed defend itself, whether on its own or with the aid of an ally, or “collective,” as long as it is under these conditions, according to the DPJ.

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