An election that really matters

The results of the Lower House election to be held on Sunday will have a great impact on the future and general posture of Japan as well as Japan’s standing in the international community. Voters cannot be too careful in deciding which party to support.

The political parties’ stances on the Constitution, especially regarding the war-renouncing Article 9, and the right to collective self-defense are especially important points. Unfortunately these issues were not adequately discussed during the election campaign.

The traditional interpretation by the government has been that the Constitution prohibits the exercise of the right to collective self-defense. Changes to Article 9 and to the government’s interpretation of the right to collective self-defense would shatter the trust Japan has gained from the international community through its adherence to its constitutional no-war principle in the decades that followed the end of World War II. Such changes would only contribute to the destabilization of East Asia.

Voters must also carefully weigh the parties’ stances on nuclear power generation at the polls. The general lesson from the 3/11 catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is that nuclear power generation is a technology whose safety cannot be guaranteed, especially in this quake-prone country.

The Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Restoration Party and a few other parties call for a revision of the Constitution, including Article 9, and want to end the prohibition against the exercise of the right to collective self-defense.

The LDP’s draft constitution includes the creation of a National Defense Force will be created and says that, under a designated law, the proposed NDF can take part in international cooperative activities to help maintain peace and security in the international community.

But this concept is so vague and sweeping that it could be used to justify Japan’s participation in virtually any type of military mission abroad. Exercising the right to collective self-defense would also open the way for Japan’s involvement in military conflict that does not directly affect it, thus unnecessarily putting Japanese in harm’s way.

The biggest problem is as long as they control a majority of Diet seats, the LDP and other parties can gut the Constitution’s no-war principle by simply changing the government’s current interpretation that bans the exercise of the right to collective self-defense. They don’t even have to revise the Constitution.

As for nuclear power generation, recent studies by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority show that power companies likely underestimated the risks from geological faults near or under nuclear power plant sites. In addition, nuclear waste facilities at nuclear power plants have little capacity left and would be full after several years if nuclear power generation resumes as before. Furthermore, the idea of storing high-level radioactive waste underground permanently is risky because no one can predict what will happen to the waste-storage containment material after it is exposed to high levels of radiation for 100 years, much less many thousands of years.

Unfortunately few of the parties have pointed out the environmental and ethical problems associated with the long-term storage of nuclear waste. Voters should in particular give carefully consideration to this issue.