|

Leave Article 9 alone: New Komeito’s Osaka women

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Political alliances often resemble shotgun weddings. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and smaller opposition forces such as Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) that are pushing to amend the Constitution are now wondering if their efforts will fail due to a group of Osaka women who have made it clear some things will not be compromised for the sake of marriage.

New Komeito is in the odd position of serving as the LDP’s coalition partner in the Diet, where Nippon Ishin is officially the opposition. Yet New Komeito — at least for the moment — is also Nippon Ishin’s partner in the Osaka Municipal and Prefectural assemblies, where the LDP is the opposition.

Of course, New Komeito’s strongest supporters are in Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist group whose critics accuse it of being a powerful cult. But there is no doubt about two things. First, Soka Gakkai and New Komeito oppose revoking Article 9 of the Constitution, the “no-war clause,” along the lines Abe and Nippon Ishin co-leader Shintaro Ishihara envision. Second, New Komeito and Soka Gakkai are strong in Osaka. In particular, the women of Soka Gakkai who support New Komeito are organized, disciplined, and, in the grand tradition of Osaka, not afraid to speak their minds.

Of New Komeito’s 51 Diet members, nine are from Osaka, the largest concentration of the party’s politicians in the country. In short, when New Komeito’s Osaka supporters talk, regardless of whether they belong to Soka Gakkai, the party listens.

That’s what frustrates Takeo Hiranuma, co-leader of Nippon Ishin’s Diet group. Last year, he was quoted as saying the constitutional revision was being blocked “by a group of ladies in Osaka,” a not-so-subtle reference to New Komeito female voters there who like Article 9 just the way it is, thank you very much.

However, Hiranuma’s view ignores two realities: The first is numbers-based, while the second has to do with history, myth and stereotypes that play a role in broader Osaka attitudes toward itself, Article 9 and those who would scrap it.

First, Abe and the LDP want to change Article 9 by first revising Article 96, which stipulates a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the Diet is needed to amend the Constitution. The LDP, Nippon Ishin and Your Party want to lower that to a simple majority.

New Komeito is cautious, to say the least, about changing Article 96. Theoretically, Abe could team up with Nippon Ishin. But that likely means ditching New Komeito as a coalition partner — a heavy price to pay. The party’s ability to get things done for its voters and for those in LDP districts is widely respected in and out of the LDP, while Nippon Ishin Diet members are, by and large, inexperienced amateurs detested by the bureaucrats.

Nor is opposition to revising Article 9 limited to New Komeito voters who belong to Soka Gakkai. As an ancient merchant city that was trading with Korea and China when Tokyo was nothing but swampland, Osaka’s historical mindset has traditionally been one of “war is bad for business.”

During the Edo Period, the ruling samurai were seen by Osaka’s merchants less as loyal and honorable guardians and more as lazy braggarts who got drunk and were easily fleeced at the gaming tables. In the 1930s, Osaka had a reputation as being a particularly difficult place to recruit soldiers and sailors.

Thus, with its long history of Asian ties, a preference for commerce over military adventures, and a strong contempt for Tokyo’s bureaucratic politics, large numbers of Osakans, not just a few Osaka women in one political party, do not share, even today, an inclination to revise Article 9 simply because Tokyo politicians say it’s necessary.