Student protesters continued to cry foul over what they call “unconstitutional” security legislation Wednesday in a last-minute effort before the bills’ expected Diet passage later this week.
Aki Okuda, 23, a founding member of Student Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) — a leading student group campaigning against the government’s security bills — expressed concerns during a news conference Wednesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.
The bills are “clearly against the Constitution,” Okuda said. The government’s explanation has been insufficient and deliberation in the Diet has been made difficult, as the eleven different components were packaged together and debated at the same time.
“It is much deeper than the issue of just whether to send forces overseas,” Okuda said, likening the government’s moves to “a car going forward without breaks.”
The news conference followed a hearing by the Upper House special committee on the bills, where Okuda was invited by the opposition parties Tuesday afternoon. At the news conference, he said his appearance at the hearing showed that what is happening on the street is actually having an impact in politics.
Although the opposition camp is trying to prolong the process, the bills are expected to pass the Upper House by the end of Friday with a majority vote of the ruling bloc.
“No matter what happens with these security bills, the people who are now standing up and raising their voices will not stop,” Okuda said.
He emphasized that his movement would continue to work against the bills and the Abe administration, with an eye toward next summer’s Upper House election.
SEALDs, formed on May 3 — Constitution Day — has inspired the nation’s youth to participate in demonstrations and forums over the past three months. The organization now boasts branches in the Kansai, Tokai and Tohoku regions, and even as far away as Okinawa Prefecture, according to Okuda, who added that it has 300 core members.
Okuda claimed that the impact of SEALDs has been felt by many people, including his peers, adding that the biggest change in Japan is that people with concerns are now “visible,” and “people can come out and say what they are thinking.”
Hiroki Goto, 21, a third-year law student in Seinan University in Fukuoka, and one of the organizers of a local protest group, said he was inspired and motivated by SEALDs, and admired their courage to speak out, their professional graphic design and the quality of the student rallies.
“Demonstrations were for the elderly in Fukuoka, and I was scared to join them alone,” Goto said. “But, because the protests are organized by the students and many students were there, it was very easy to participate,” Goto said.
Goto said he used the LINE group-messaging service to contact other student protest groups in Kyushu through SEALDs, organizing a major event led by student groups. About 500 people participated in the Fukuoka rally, with about 3,000 gathering in all of Kyushu, Goto said.
“This is quite a big deal for Kyushu,” he added.
Despite the apparent overwhelming youth opposition to the legislation, Yohei Saiki, 23, the founder of Teen’s Rights Movement, which backed the bills to lower the voting age to 18, expressed concerns that the media is overrepresenting the number of students involved in the opposition movement.
This, he said, could misguide the public.
“The young generation’s perspectives vary, and there are people supporting the bills,” he said, emphasizing the importance of hearing from both opponents and proponents in forming opinions.