Differences between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, New Komeito, are starting to bubble to the surface over the issue of collective self-defense, in which conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to reverse a long-held pacifist principle.
Yoshio Urushibara, head of New Komeito’s Diet affairs, has spoken against Abe’s desire to change the national policy — with Cabinet approval only — and allow Japan to help defend allies that come under military attack, saying the prime minister is ignoring the public on this issue.
“Whether or not to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense is the most important issue for Japan and its people. It is too aggressive and rough for Abe and his 18 Cabinet ministers to unilaterally decide such an important matter,” Urushibara wrote in his email newsletter Tuesday.
It is rare for an executive of the LDP’s junior coalition partner to speak critically of Abe in such an explicit manner.
Abe has repeatedly said in the last several weeks that it is his Cabinet that will decide whether to allow Japan to come to the aid of allied nations after it receives a report in April from the government panel exploring the issue. He also said his administration will submit any related bills to the Diet needed to implement the decision.
Technically speaking, any government bill has to be approved by the Cabinet before it is submitted to the Diet, but the opposition camp has been calling for more rigorous discussion on this matter, as there is almost no room to modify a bill after Cabinet approval and submission to the Diet.
Abe and New Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi agreed Tuesday that the ruling camp will hold discussions on the issue after the report is produced.
New Komeito, which is backed by the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, has been on the fence about giving the green light to collective self-defense, let alone revising the war-renouncing Constitution, another of Abe’s goals.
While some New Komeito lawmakers say dissatisfaction is mounting over the way Abe has been handling the issue, Yamaguchi has said the party is unlikely to leave the coalition government just because of differences over policy.
Except for the three years that the Democratic Party of Japan ruled between 2009 and 2012, the LDP and New Komeito have been allied since 1999.
Yet New Komeito’s ability to act as a balance against the conservative prime minister is being tested as never before. Abe is on a roll in achieving his nationalistic agenda to depart from the post-World War II regime, such as by enacting the controversial state secrets law in December.
Abe is also trying to pass a bill before the legislative session ends June 22 to reform the board of education system so that mayors can intervene in the process, a complete departure from the postwar reflection that education must be independent of any political intervention.