Nobody here on the Community page has weighed in on Japan’s Upper House election last July 10, so JBC will have a go.
The conclusion first: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scored a hat trick this election, and it reaffirmed his mandate to do whatever he likes. And you’re probably not going to like what that is.
Of those three victories, the first election in December 2012 was a rout of the leftist Democratic Party of Japan and it thrust the more powerful Lower House of Parliament firmly into the hands of the long-incumbent Liberal Democratic Party under Abe. The second election in December 2014 further normalized Japan’s lurch to the far right, giving the ruling coalition a supermajority of 2/3 of the seats in the Lower House.
July’s election delivered the Upper House to Abe. And how. Although a few protest votes found their way to small fringe leftist parties, the LDP and parties simpatico with Abe’s policies picked up even more seats. And with the recent defection of Diet member Tatsuo Hirano from the opposition, the LDP alone has a parliamentary majority for the first time in 27 years, and a supermajority of simpaticos. Once again the biggest loser was the leftist Democratic Party, whose fall from power three years ago has even accelerated.
So that’s it then: Abe has achieved his goals. And with that momentum he’s going to change the Japanese Constitution.
Amazingly, this isn’t obvious to some observers. The Wall Street Journal, The Economist (London), and Abe insiders still cheerfully opined that Abe’s primary concern remains the economy — that constitutional reform will remain on the backburner.
But some media made similar optimistic predictions after Abe’s past electoral victories. For example, Abe wouldn’t change Japan’s security laws punishing the release of “state secrets” (whatever that meant — for what fully qualifies as “secret” is a state secret) because it would chill Japan’s media and hurt Japan’s democracy. Again, Japan’s economy was Abe’s main focus. But guess what: Abe changed that — and more.
Abe even circumvented Japan’s constitutional issues of self-defense by simply ignoring them through reinterpre- tation. And despite all the wan hope that Abe would let loose “three arrows” — empowering women, reforming Japan’s immigration policies and generally enabling the disenfranchised to make structural inroads — three years later the Pollyanna pundits were wrong again. Abe abandoned “womenomics” after he switched slogans to “100 million active people,” and his imported labor policies remained the same revolving-door foreign “trainee” programs to service the 2020 Olympics.
For decades Abe and his minions at the ultranationalist Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) lobby group (of which most of Abe’s Cabinet are members) have made no secret that their primary goal is to make Japan “autonomous.” To restore Japan to an imagined state of glory based upon blood nationalism, returning power to a bred elite, reviving Japan’s military political power with a seat at the civilian policymaking table, and putting the duty on the people to follow the state, not the other way around.
That has always meant getting rid of that pesky American-written and “imposed” postwar “peace Constitution” that enshrines allegedly “Western” values of human rights and empowerment of the individual. No longer content to ignore the Constitution, Abe wants to scrap it.
And it has been no secret of what he wants in its place. The LDP has put up a draft constitution for public view since 2012 (see it at www.jimin.jp/activity/colum/116667.html) For the lowbrow reader, they even put out a comic book last year (see Colin P.A. Jones, “The LDP’s comic appeal for constitutional change falls flat,” July 15, 2015).
If you think my concerns are overblown, let’s have a constitutional scholar analyze where this is going: In his 2013 Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus article, Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University, listed up the “ten most dangerous proposals for constitutional change” that put “Japan’s democracy at risk” by “ripping the imposed constitution out by its philosophical roots.”
These proposals include rejecting the universality of human rights, elevating the maintenance of “public order” over all individual rights (including freedom of speech and press), deleting the comprehensive guarantee of all constitutional rights, suspending the Constitution during “states of emergency,” lowering standards for making future constitutional amendments, and, of course, scrapping Article 9 limiting Japan’s military power. All of this, incidentally, benefits those in power by giving them more of it.
What is Abe’s motive (I mean, aside from grabbing more power for his ruling class)? It’s seemingly intensely personal. Need I remind readers that Abe is the grandson of suspected Class-A war criminal Nobusuke Kishi who nevertheless became a prime minister? And given that Abe’s ilk see the family unit (not the individual) as the “natural and basic unit of society,” Abe views this as a matter of clearing his family name of “victor’s justice.” He won’t rest until he does.
And he can do it. Unlike any other modern prime minister, he has been granted a second chance, a third mandate and two supermajorities.
So despite what pundits keep saying about Abe’s economics focus, don’t be fooled. This past election was a referendum on whether people are scared of Abe scrapping the Constitution.
Clearly they’re not. Despite public opinion polls opposing constitutional reform, convictions were not serious enough to vote for someone else last month. It wasn’t even a tie. Abe and his lot still gained seats.
So what more does Abe need? He’s more successful than the LDP’s template PM, Junichiro Koizumi. He’s got an electorate becoming more geriatric, and thus more conservative. He’s even bandwagoned Japan’s youth, the newly-enfranchised voters aged between 18 and 20 who generally voted for him too. (Understandably; Japan’s electorate doesn’t usually favor underdogs — why waste your vote on losers?)
That’s why JBC predicts that Abe will now redouble his efforts to amend the Constitution. Why not? Voters just keep giving him green lights.
And if (more likely at this writing, when) that happens, beware — for Japan’s right-wing swing toward fascism then becomes permanent.
Debito’s book “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination” has just come out in paperback. Twitter @arudoudebito. Lawrence Repeta’s article is at apjjf.org/2013/11/28/Lawrence-Repeta/3969/article.html.