Fukushima strives to carve a pacifist path for the SDP

by Jun Hongo

After being handed a fourth term as president of the Social Democratic Party without a vote, Mizuho Fukushima on Dec. 4 took her seat at the SDP’s headquarters in Tokyo and faced reporters to give her victory speech.

But the celebratory bouquet of flowers blocked the petite lawmaker from cameras, and party officials quickly stopped Fukushima and replaced her chair with a taller stool.

“Sorry, please hold on just a second,” Fukushima, who serves as the consumer affairs minister in the Cabinet, told reporters shyly.

But in sharp contrast with her small stature, her speech included bold comments on contentious issues that have caused tension within the Cabinet.

“The SDP has its role, a mission, which must be accomplished in history, in this era, in politics,” Fukushima said, briefly touching on the stalled relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The past year saw the Democratic Party of Japan kick the Liberal Democratic Party out of power after decades of almost unbroken rule. But Fukushima caused a ripple within the coalition that eventually became a tidal wave, influencing Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s diplomacy and in effect annulling the base relocation pact with the U.S.

Fukushima’s philosophy can be summed up in the titles of her books, which include “A Declaration of Love Towards the Constitution” and “God is in the Constitution.”

In what she calls “Fukushima Mizuho no Manifesto,” (“Mizuho Fukushima’s Political Pledges”) the socialist lawmaker bluntly states on her Web site that U.S. bases in Japan should be “reorganized, minimized, then abolished.”

“Residents living around U.S. bases are suffering from noise pollution as well as theft and sex crimes by U.S. forces. U.S. bases, which deeply trouble the public life, are unnecessary,” she states.

Despite her desire to rid Japan of the U.S. military presence, the SDP chief states in her book “Nihon Saisei” (“Rebirth of Japan”) that she is not anti-American. She sees the U.S. as a “big-hearted” nation where volunteerism is a virtue and people think first of their families.

But she also criticizes the U.S., saying “the weak tend to become a victim of the strong” and its social welfare system is deficient in health care and public services.

True to such beliefs, Fukushima has continued pressuring the DPJ to get tougher with Washington on reorganizing its bases here, causing friction between the two nations.

Although the DPJ had been pushing for a review of the 2006 agreement with the U.S. to relocate Futenma from crowded Ginowan to a less densely populated area in Nago, farther north on Okinawa Island by 2014, the coalition’s initial agreement on policies reached in September between the DPJ, the SDP and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) did not mention this principle.

But after Fukushima and her left-leaning party demanded that the coalition agreement address the subject, a segment was added to assuage the SDP.

The final version of the three-party accord stated, “We will propose amending the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces agreement, and will consider revising the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, as well as reviewing the nature of U.S. bases in Japan.”

As a consequence, the DPJ-led coalition revealed earlier this month it will put off resolving the Futenma relocation question until 2010, prolonging the tension between Tokyo and Washington.

And if Fukushima shows any lack of resolve on the SDP’s core beliefs, the pacifist party and its supporting organizations are always ready to call for tough action.

Such was the case earlier in December when Fukushima was showing signs of conforming to the DPJ as she got ready for the SDP’s presidential election. Comfortably in power since 2003, she was likely to run uncontested for her fourth term.

But labor unions and left-leaning pacifist organizations — major supporters of the SDP — were discontented with Fukushima’s lack of push on the Futenma issue. At one point they considered backing Lower House member Kantoku Teruya to run against her.

Burned in the past, the SDP and its supporters are quick to put a check on compromising its policies.

The party had always insisted that the existence of the Self-Defense Forces was unconstitutional — until SDP leader Tomiichi Murayama became prime minister in a coalition government with the LDP and the now-defunct New Party Sakigake. When Murayama reversed the party’s position on the SDF in 1994 to go along with other members of the coalition, the SDP lost a majority of its left-leaning supporters and the party eventually had to undertake an intense rebuilding process.

Teruya waited until the last minute before announcing he wouldn’t try to unseat Fukushima — and only after his possible candidacy forced her to state that the party will leave the coalition if the Futenma relocation proceeds under the 2006 accord.

“Whether the SDP would really drop out of the coalition is questionable,” political analyst Eiken Itagaki said of Fukushima’s threat. The independent analyst, well-versed in DPJ politics, added it was crucial for the SDP chief to make a forceful statement if she wanted to keep her seat.

With her position secured, Fukushima will face the crucial Upper House election in July that will determine the SDP’s fate in the ruling coalition. The party has talked big because its five seats in the Upper House give the DPJ-led bloc a majority, but they won’t be needed if the DPJ wins a majority on its own or if the SDP loses its key seats.

Fukushima is pledging to double the party’s Upper House seats in the upcoming vote, saying the SDP “is a small party, but it is a party with ideals.” But a recent poll by Jiji Press indicates the party’s support rate is only about 1.1 percent, compared with the DPJ’s 25 percent and the LDP’s 15 percent. Even the Japanese Communist Party gets 1.7 percent, according to the survey.

Seeking a breakthrough, Fukushima will likely come out swinging by highlighting the unique character of her party as well as herself.

But analysts say the stance on the Futenma issue will only get the SDP so far.

“The party is having a difficult time expanding its support,” analyst Itagaki said. “Depending on how well the DPJ does in the Upper House election, the SDP could very well become dispensable.”