Commentary / Japan

Japanese freedom an illusion

by Jiro Yamaguchi

The 18th century Francophone philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote the following in “The Social Contract” in criticizing parliamentary politics: “The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing.”

This criticism by Rousseau can be applied to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, particularly his betrayal of the Japanese people in his discussion regarding the Constitution. Since the beginning of this year, Abe has expressed his eagerness to revise the Constitution, especially the war-renouncing Article 9, and said he wanted to secure the two-thirds majority in the Upper House that is needed to initiate a constitutional amendment.

However, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party never touched on the issue during the campaign for the July 10 Upper House election. He essentially escaped from the topic as opposition parties built their campaign cooperation on their common cause of preventing revision of the Constitution.

And when his ruling coalition won the election and political forces in favor of constitutional revision captured the two-thirds majority of the Upper House, the prime minister said: “As for the question of which article of the Constitution should be changed and how, it is expected that the discussion would converge through talks at the Commission on the Constitution (in the Diet). The LDP has consistently advocated revising the Constitution, and it is my duty as president of the party to realize the party’s draft revision. Revising the Constitution is not so easy, since an amendment needs to be initiated with the support of at least two-thirds of seats in both lower and upper chambers of the Diet. How to build up the two-thirds support on the basis of our party’s idea will indeed be a question of technique of politics.”

To call it “technique of politics” to forge a two-thirds majority consensus on the basis of the LDP’s draft revision is an outrageous attempt at justifying a sneak attack on the people.

The LDP’s draft revision, if implemented, would restrict people’s basic rights to a degree “that they will not disrupt public order,” which could result in the government suppressing people’s expression and demonstrations as a disruption of public order if they are deemed undesirable for those in power. The draft revision also makes it an obligation of the people to respect what the LDP considers the nation’s traditions and family values. Just as Rousseau warned, the Japanese people can be turned into slaves.

The arrogance of the Abe administration is particularly evident in its policy toward Okinawa. Immediately after the Upper House election was over, the government began construction of a helipad for the U.S. military in its training range in Takae in the northern part of Okinawa Island. The police are using violence against local residents who protest against the move. The national government has also filed a legal action against Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga to confirm as illegal his decision to cancel his predecessor’s go-ahead for reclamation work to build a new facility to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The intentions of Okinawa voters have been repeatedly made clear in recent elections. The Upper House election saw the incumbent Cabinet minister in charge of Okinawa issues lose her Okinawa district seat by a large margin. There are no longer any ruling coalition Diet members elected from Okinawan constituencies. But Abe does not seem to care — perhaps in his mind the people of Okinawa are not among Japan’s electorate. For him, the ballots cast by Okinawan voters must be just empty slips of paper.

The problem is that most Japanese people do not seem to regret having chosen such an arrogant leader to take the helm of government. Post-election media surveys clearly indicate that voters have anxiety over the future course of the administration, with 48 percent of the respondents in one survey by the Asahi Shimbun saying they are “more concerned than hopeful” about Abe’s policies, compared with 37 percent who say they are more hopeful than concerned.

The same Asahi poll said 35 percent of the respondents favor revising the Constitution, compared with 43 percent who oppose revision. However, such concerns on the part of the people do not necessarily translate into them taking any political action.

In the ongoing Tokyo gubernatorial race, a female candidate who favors revising the Constitution, suggests arming Japan with nuclear weapons and has ties to an organization that promotes racist hate speech is said to be collecting the most support among voters — just because she ran in the election, breaking with the LDP and without its support. Could it be that the Japanese, after all, are an obedient herd of sheep?

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University in Tokyo.