National

Lawmakers slammed for using coronavirus to justify emergency clause for Japan's Constitution, curbing rights

JIJI

Some lawmakers, including representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party, have made the case for a state of emergency clause to be added to the Constitution, basing their argument on the current crisis around the new coronavirus outbreak, drawing criticism from opposition parties.

At Friday’s meeting of the ruling LDP’s task force on the virus, cases of which continue to grow across China, some participants said the public needed to understand that the Constitution should be revised because it limits the measures that can be taken to safeguard public health.

The lawmakers said that in its current form the supreme law imposes restrictions on compulsory measures the government is able to take to prevent the spread of infectious viruses, because of its consideration for human rights.

The addition of a state of emergency clause would drastically reduce such restrictions, they noted.

A state of emergency clause, which is included in the LDP proposal for constitutional revision, would allow the government to limit citizens’ rights temporarily to deal with emergencies such as war and large-scale disasters.

LDP General Council Chairman Shunichi Suzuki told a news conference Friday that adding such a clause to the Constitution was “an option.”

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, also an LDP member, said, “Japan faces questions including how to balance public interests and private rights.”

Yukio Edano, head of the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told a news conference Friday that measures necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases can already be taken under the current legal framework.

LDP and other politicians “are taking advantage of an issue affecting people’s lives for constitutional revision. That’s unforgivable,” he said.

Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, said LDP lawmakers “went too far” in calling for a state of emergency clause in relation to the virus.

Secretary-General Tetsuo Saito of Komeito, which tends to maintain some distance in terms of policies from its coalition partner the LDP, told a news conference that calm discussions are necessary on constitutional revisions.

Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi expressed a cautious view Tuesday. “It’s important to do first what can be done under the current law,” Yamaguchi told a news conference. Whether or not a legislative measure is necessary should be discussed only when such action turns out to be insufficient, he added.

But Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), which supports constitutional revision, also sees the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to advance constitutional debates at the Diet.

At a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Jan. 28, Nobuyuki Baba, secretary-general of the party, told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that it was necessary to work hard so that the public would better understand the proposed state of emergency clause.

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