As Japan greets the new year of 2014, the political situation surrounding the nation’s citizens is not bright. This is primarily because the Abe administration and the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito on Dec. 6 forced the state secrets bill through the Diet and enacted it. People face the danger of the law undermining their right to know, freedom of the press and freedoms of thought, conscience and expression.
And this law goes hand in hand with the one that established the National Security Council. Since the NSC law does not require the keeping of minutes of NSC meetings, what the two laws mean is that the prime minister, the chief Cabinet secretary, the foreign minister and the defense minister can secretively make decisions that greatly affect the fate of the nation and all citizens.
This year the fundamental democratic principle that is declared in the preamble of the Constitution — that sovereign power resides with the people — will be tested. It will be all the more important for citizens to carefully monitor the nation’s politics and carry out various efforts at the grass-roots level aimed at upholding their sovereignty.
The state secrets law gives the heads of administrative bodies the discretionary power to designate information related to security, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counterterrorism as special secrets. This power enables the bureaucracy to hide an almost limitless amount of information from the people and their representatives in the Diet. This will have the effect of putting the bureaucracy above the Diet and allowing it to make important decisions, especially in the areas of security and diplomacy, without providing sufficient information to the Diet.
People should realize that the law carries the danger of completely undermining the fundamental principles of the Constitution. Article 41 of the Constitution says: “The Diet shall be the highest organ of state power, and shall be the sole lawmaking organ of the State.”
The important task for people as they greet the new year is to brace themselves for protecting the fundamental principles of the Constitution as stated by its preamble and Article 41.
In addition to declaring that sovereign power resides with the people, the preamble of the Constitution says, “Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people.”
What people saw in 2013 was that the Diet is not fulfilling its duties as stipulated by the Constitution. Clearly the Lower House failed to spend sufficient hours for discussions on the state secrets bill. After the bill was rammed through the Lower House, the situation in the Upper House was worse.
Although many problems were pointed out with regard to the bill during the Lower House discussions, the ruling coalition was obsessed with the idea of hurriedly making the bill into a law.
The Upper House’s special committee on the bill spent 23 hours for discussions, only about half the number of hours given to discussions in the Lower House counterpart committee — this despite the fact that the Lower House discussions were inadequate and that the role of the Upper House is to amend the excess or inadequacy of the Lower House and to listen to minority opinions.
Despite this deplorable situation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Dec. 4 that adequate discussions were made in the Upper House, and the LPD and New Komeito forced the bill through the Upper House and enacted the bill on Dec. 6.
It is important for people to remember what happened that day and to make efforts to reject the political forces that work to weaken the function of the Diet and corrode the important rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The reason that the Abe administration and the ruling coalition made haste in passing the bill is clear. As people’s movements to oppose the bill were gaining momentum, they feared that if Diet deliberations on the bill were prolonged, many defects of the bill would become clear to the eyes of people and the bill might fail to be passed by the Diet.
This inversely shows that the powers that be fear people who have the ability to see through the essence of the matter. This is all the more reason why the people must continue to closely examine what bureaucrats and politicians do and to manifest their opinions through daily activities including sending letters, issuing statements, making speeches, organizing study meetings, taking part in demonstrations and casting their votes in elections.
With only the support of about a quarter of all the voters, the LDP and New Komeito gained the majority in the Upper House in the July election. This was made possible because some 48 percent of eligible voters did not bother to participate.
People should realize that abstention is tantamount to giving carte blanche to the parties that win an election. Although there will be no scheduled Diet elections in 2014, it should be a year in which people discard their political apathy. They can express their political will in local elections, including the Tokyo gubernatorial election in February, and through various grassroots activities.
This year, the Abe administration will try to scrap the long-established weapons-export ban and to discard the government’s long-standing constitutional interpretation that Japan cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense.
These moves could directly involve Japan in conflicts abroad, possibly including combat missions of the Self-Defense Forces in foreign countries. Abe’s ultimate goal is to change the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.
In view of these important moves, people cannot afford to be indifferent to politics. This year they must closely watch politics and express their opinions.
The Abe administration’s economic policy appears to have somewhat brightened the nation’s economy — at least temporarily. But in fiscal 2014, the financial burden people must shoulder will increase as exemplified by the consumption tax hike from April. The danger of economic bubbles cannot be excluded because the main pillar of Abenomics is to increase the nation’s monetary base in an unprecedented manner.
The administration is also pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade scheme. But this is primarily an attempt to place the interests of international businesses above the interests of sovereign states. People need to carefully examine whether these moves will really improve their welfare and to take concrete civic actions in protest of such policies if they believe the opposite will be the case.
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