National / Politics

Potential Abe successor speaks out against security bills

by Isabel Reynolds and Maiko Takahashi

Bloomberg

A possible rival for the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party is speaking out against his plans to expand the role of the Self-Defense Forces.

“To tell the truth, that’s a question mark,” Seiko Noda said in an interview on Wednesday, when asked whether she backs the bills to enable Japan to defend an ally under attack. “Lawmakers who are practically defense nerds are suddenly flinging these unfamiliar ideas at the public.”

Noda, who’s been mentioned as a candidate to become Japan’s first female prime minister, is only the second senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker to criticize the legislation.

With Japan embroiled in the Senkaku Islands dispute with an increasingly assertive China, the ruling coalition pushed the bills through the Lower House earlier this month despite widespread public opposition. His support rate has tumbled and thousands of people have taken to the streets of Tokyo to protest the changes.

A former chairwoman of the LDP’s General Council, Noda left the party temporarily a decade ago following a dispute with then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi over postal privatization. She said she won’t try to stop the security bills that are set to be enacted by September. Instead, she will seek to change them later to reflect public opposition to Abe’s reinterpretation of the Constitution’s pacifist Article 9.

“Japan is appreciated because we have passed the last 70 years under Article 9 without killing anyone,” Noda, 54, said at her offices in central Tokyo. “We should see this as a badge of honor.”

She criticized the administration for failing to explain the new policies to the public. She singled out a recent TV appearance in which Abe compared the concept of defending other countries to helping extinguish a fire in a neighbor’s house that threatened to spread to one’s own home.

“It’s not a fire,” she said. “Thinking you can compare it to a fire because the public doesn’t understand is just making fun of them. It actually makes it even harder to understand.”

While the media have speculated that Noda might run against Abe in a September party leadership election, she said she has no plans to run “as of today.” She listed a number of lawmakers, including Shigeru Ishiba, minister for regional revitalization, and Koizumi’s son, Shinjiro, as qualified to run for the post.

In a poll published by the Sankei Shimbun this month, 26 percent of respondents said Abe was the best-qualified person to lead Japan, with 9.3 percent opting for Ishiba and 1.3 percent for Noda. About 36 percent said no politician was suitable.

Noda said Abe shouldn’t try to stay on as prime minister through to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and should stand down in 2018 after two three-year terms as party president to make way for a leader with a more domestic focus.

“His support rate has fallen so far that it’s more a question of whether he can get through the Upper House election” next July, she said.

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