Prefectural and local authorities warn government over Constitution

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Over the past few weeks, swaths of prefectural and local governments have condemned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s moves to reinterpret the Constitution, citing either disagreement with the aim or opposition to how it was carried out.

Nearly 160 governments, including Nagano and Gifu prefectures, the cities of Sapporo, Aomori, Naha, and Nago, and towns and villages in 26 of the 47 prefectures have formally voiced opposition in one form or another.

Such statements have no legal power. However, they do serve as a political warning to the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito that the move could haunt their candidates in local elections next spring.

The Sapporo Municipal Assembly pointed to an April 1983 statement by the central government that said collective self-defense was prohibited under Article 9 of the Constitution, and that only the absolute minimum level of armed force needed could be deployed for self-defense.

“We strongly urge the government not to revise interpretation of the Constitution, so that collective self-defense is not exercised overseas for countries at war — something that has no relation to ‘self-’defense,” the statement says.

Nearly 30 other small towns in Hokkaido have also voiced opposition or concern over the way Abe forced the decision through.

The prefectural and city governments in Nagano, and nearly three dozen towns and villages, expressed either caution or outright opposition to collective self-defense.

“While there is no argument that there is a growing need to have a range of measures to safeguard people in a worsening security environment for Japan, there are many opinions regarding the exercise of self-defense,” the resolution says. “We cannot say general understanding (of the need for collective self-defense) is progressing.”

In Okinawa, opposition was voiced by the cities of Naha and Nago, who fear that, as with the Korean and Vietnam wars, Okinawa would bear the brunt of any decision to aid the United States under collective self-defense. Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.

Some smaller towns produced detailed statements of opposition, citing specific historical references. Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, warned that allowing collective self-defense would lead to overseas deployments resulting in many battle deaths, as was the case with some nations that joined the coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our town suffered great damage from the 3/11 quake and tsunami, and from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but the Self-Defense Forces were dispatched and provided great assistance. In particular, we are grateful to them for putting their lives on the line by searching for those living within the 30-km evacuation zone of the Fukushima No. 1 plant. We cannot approve of sending these same people overseas to use armed force,” the Minamisoma Municipal Assembly said.