Calling Abe to account

Interpellations have gone into full gear in the current ordinary Diet session, which started on Jan. 24. Japan faces various domestic and diplomatic issues. This is the first time since 2007, when Shinzo Abe was in his first tenure as prime minister, that the ruling bloc participates in an ordinary Diet session while controlling both legislative chambers.

In the July Upper House election, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito won big and gained control of that Diet chamber. The ruling force should refrain from the kind of forceful Diet management that it adopted in passing the state secrets bill in the extraordinary session that followed the Upper House election.

Prime Minister Abe originally dubbed the extraordinary Diet session as a session to fully discuss measures designed to firmly put the nation on a path of steady economic growth. But instead the Abe administration focused on railroading the state secrets bill through the Diet without addressing widespread concerns that it would strictly restrict public access to government information, thus violating the people’s right to know and freedom of the press.

Abe is intent on changing the government’s long-standing constitutional interpretation, which says that under the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution Japan cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense. He wants to implement the change during the current ordinary Diet session. At the very least Abe must fully explain why he thinks the change is needed and what he wants to do after changing the traditional constitutional interpretation.

Exercising the right to collective self-defense, which would enable Japan to engage in military operations abroad together with other countries, especially with the United States, means a complete departure from the defense-only defense posture, postwar Japan’s basic policy. Changing the constitutional interpretation is tantamount to a revision of the Constitution without following proper proceedings. Opposition forces should do their utmost to stop his attempt.

Although the state secrets bill was enacted into law, the Diet should fully discuss the defects of the law. The administration also should sincerely answer questions from opposition forces.

At a minimum, the Diet and the Abe administration must adopt measures designed to restrict arbitrary designation of special secrets by bureaucrats and heads of administrative bodies, although the end goal should be the repeal of the law. The Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party plan to submit bills to abolish the law. The Diet should fully deliberate on these bills.

Since the inauguration of the current Abe administration, the prime minister has not yet held meetings with the leaders of China and South Korea. His visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December invited criticism even from the United States, Russia and the European Union. Abe’s stance carries the danger of isolating Japan in the international community. The Diet should take Abe to task on these diplomatic issues by thoroughly grilling him.

The Diet also needs to discuss Abe’s economic policy. Abe appears to think that if business-friendly measures are taken, Japan’s economic conditions will automatically improve. But the bottom line should be to stabilize and improve the lives of ordinary citizens, not maximize the benefits of big business. The Diet must scrutinize whether his approach will achieve this goal.