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New Komeito not necessarily on same policy page as old, hawkish ally LDP

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Revising the war-renouncing Constitution is not an urgent matter and neither the majority of the public nor the international community is supporting Japan’s recent rightward tilt led by the Liberal Democratic Party, said Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of LDP ally New Komeito.

In the face of the upcoming Dec. 16 Lower House general election, hawkish LDP President Shinzo Abe has boldly put forth policies of his color, including amending the Constitution, which was drafted under the Allied Occupation, to establish what would be called the National Defense Force and enable Japan to engage in collective self-defense. But New Komeito, a long-time LDP ally, made no mention of the Constitution in its campaign platform.

Comparing the campaign pledges of the two parties, which for a decade were the ruling coalition before Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan ousted them from power in 2009, the LDP and New Komeito stand apart on key issues, including the Constitution and energy policy, particularly when it comes to nuclear power.

Media polls show the two parties together currently stand to fare well in the Dec. 16 Lower House election, but their differences, particularly over Abe’s goals, are conspicuous.

“It is natural for New Komeito to have different policies from the LDP because elections are held to have voters cast judgment on each party’s policies, and (the difference) should be respected,” Yamaguchi said during a group interview Thursday. “But after that, we would like to take a responsible role in reaching wise agreements (with the LDP) over policies.”

Later in an interview with The Japan Times, Yamaguchi said it is unlikely Abe’s hawkish goals will be achieved anytime soon.

“I think (Abe) proposed the (constitutional) revision with a long-term view. It would be a bit difficult to do it in the next four years,” Yamaguchi said. “The people are most concerned about the economy and social welfare, and they are not asking us to immediately amend the Constitution. It is an important issue that needs to be discussed thoroughly.”

A pacifist party supported by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization, New Komeito advocates augmenting the charter to suit the times, including environmental rights. But Yamaguchi was firmly against pursuing the right of collective self-defense.

“We believe that the current interpretation of the Constitution (prohibiting collective defense) is appropriate and there is no need to change it,” Yamaguchi said.

The right of collective self-defense, recognized under the U.N. Charter, would allow a nation to use force to strike back an aggressor attacking an allied nation. The government has long interpreted the pacifist Constitution as prohibiting Japan from exercising this right, but Abe has argued the interpretation should be changed so the Self-Defense Forces can operate more closely with the U.S. military.

The 2009 Lower House election was a painful blow for New Komeito, which lost all of its single-seat constituency lawmakers, including the one secured by then party leader Akihiro Ota. This time, Yamaguchi said the party intends to win all nine single-seat constituency seats and 25 in the proportional representation segment.

New Komeito and the LDP are also poles apart on suffrage for foreigners in local-level elections. The LDP opposes giving such rights to foreigners, including permanent residents, while New Komeito advocates to the contrary. This clause was anyway also omitted from New Komeito’s current platform.

Yamaguchi claimed his party has not changed its position but refrained from including this advocacy in its platform to avoid “a misunderstanding” amid recent strains with South Korea over the Takeshima territorial dispute.

“I think we should think positively about giving permanent residents the right to vote in local elections, (but) . . . bilateral ties with South Korea have recently deteriorated over Takeshima and what we must first do is improve the relationship,” Yamaguchi said.

New Komeito also declared it will aim for zero reliance on nuclear power “as soon as possible” without setting a specific deadline, unlike the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s goal to halt all reactors by the 2030s or the new Nippon Mirai no To (Japan Future Party), which has set the target at 2022. The LDP, on the other hand, said it will find the “best mix,” including nuclear power, after discussing the possibilities over the next decade.

“After last year’s (quake-triggered) accident (at the highly tsunami-vulnerable Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant), building new reactors will not be supported by the public. Based on that premise, we need to eventually become a society that does not rely on atomic energy,” Yamaguchi said.