Op­po­si­tion to bid to bol­ster Ja­pan forces

Scholars deem any ex­panded pow­ers to be un­con­sti­tu­tional

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Jake Adel­stein Adel­stein is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent. Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents An­gela Erika Kubo and Louis Kraus in Tokyo and Times staff writer Julie Maki­nen in Bei­jing con­trib­uted to this re­port.

TOKYO — Ja­pan’s rul­ing coali­tion came in for a shock re­cently as par­lia­ment mulled leg­is­la­tion pushed by Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe to ex­pand the pow­ers of the na­tion’s Self- De­fense Forces.

The law­mak­ers had in­vited three con­sti­tu­tional scholars to ad­dress the lower house. One of them, Waseda Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Ya­suo Hasebe, was hand­picked by the coali­tion, which was stunned when he said the leg­is­la­tion would “con­sid­er­ably dam­age the le­gal sta­bil­ity” of the na­tion and vi­o­late the coun­try’s post- World War II paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion.

The other two scholars agreed.

“It was a to­tal dis­as­ter,” said a coali­tion law­maker, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter. “With all three scholars say­ing the bills are un­con­sti­tu­tional, the de­bate ex­ploded.”

The de­ba­cle in the Diet, Ja­pan’s par­lia­ment, in early June has only added to doubts about Abe’s cam­paign to un­shackle Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary un­der the doc­trine of “col­lec­tive self- de­fense.” Polls show well over half the public op­pose the ef­fort, up sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent months, de­spite at­tempts by Abe’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to stif le crit­i­cism.

Ar­ti­cle 9 of the Ja­panese Con­sti­tu­tion, en­acted in 1947 un­der U. S. su­per­vi­sion, de­clares that “the Ja­panese peo­ple for­ever re­nounce war as a sov­er­eign right of the na­tion and the threat or use of force as a means of set­tling in­ter­na­tional dis­putes.” In the seven decades since the end of World War II, the Self­De­fense Forces have not been per­mit­ted to par­tic­i­pate in over­seas com­bat, even to come to the aid of the United States.

But last year, with Chi­naJa­pan ten­sions on the rise, Abe said he wanted to rein­ter­pret the con­sti­tu­tion to al­low Ja­pan to de­fend its al­lies, par­tic­u­larly the United States, if his coun­try’s sur­vival is at stake. His Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party in­tro­duced bills to do so, nam­ing them the Peace and Se­cu­rity Preser­va­tion Leg­is­la­tion.

The op­po­si­tion has deemed the leg­is­la­tion the “War Bill.” De­bate started May 26 and was sup­posed to end June 24, but a vote has been pushed back to Sept. 27 — the long­est ex­ten­sion in post­war history.

When Abe called snap par­lia­men­tary elec­tions last year, he made the econ­omy his fo­cus.

“This elec­tion is about Abe­nomics,” ad­min­is­tra­tion spokesman Yoshi­hide Suga told the press at the time, “not … col­lec­tive self­de­fense.”

But in post­elec­tion in­ter­views, a ju­bi­lant Abe spoke lit­tle of f inan­cial mat­ters and quite a bit about his de­sire to rid Ja­pan of what he called the “U. S.- im­posed con­sti­tu­tion” and re­place it with a new one based on the pre­war im­pe­rial con­sti­tu­tion.

“Con­sti­tu­tional re­form has been the goal and dream of the LDP since it was cre­ated,” Abe said.

Abe’s fo­cus on the con­sti­tu­tion and de­fense has stirred sub­stan­tial dis­sent.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s public ap­proval has dropped to 47.4%, and its dis­ap­proval rat­ing has risen to 43%, up 5 per­cent­age points from April, ac­cord­ing to a poll by Ky­odo News this month.

The par­lia­men­tary tes­ti­mony from the le­gal scholars didn’t help.

“When all three said the se­cu­rity bills are un­con­stitu- tional, it re­ally changed the mood,” said Koichi Nakano, a pro­fes­sor of Ja­panese pol­i­tics at Sophia Univer­sity.

The fall­out con­tin­ues. On a Sun­day in mid- June, thou­sands of peo­ple ral­lied out­side the Diet and in Tokyo’s Shibuya dis­trict to protest the se­cu­rity bills.

In re­marks to a house com­mit­tee last week, Rei­ichi Miyazaki, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Cab­i­net Leg­is­la­tion Bureau, a re­spected watchdog agency, con­cluded that Abe’s bill would vi­o­late the con­sti­tu­tion “and should be im­me­di­ately with­drawn.”

Nakano said Abe, who pre­vi­ously served as prime min­is­ter from fall 2006 to fall 2007, risked re­peat­ing past mis­takes.

“Abe re­signed in dis­grace in 2007. When he tried to stage a come­back, his fol­low­ers and ad­vi­sors urged him to get a sexy eco­nomic pol­icy that al­lows him to be mar­ketable once again,” Nakano said. “Once an elec­tion is over, his at­ten­tion and po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal are spent on his pet is­sues of se­cu­rity pol­icy re­form and his­tor­i­cal revi- sion­ism.” Abe is not with­out al­lies. At a news con­fer­ence Mon­day, Akira Mo­mochi, a pro­fes­sor at Ni­hon Univer­sity, ar­gued that the United Na­tions Char­ter gives all na­tions the right to self- de­fense. “It is a given for in­ter­na­tional laws, and that su­per­sedes na­tional laws,” he said.

But Abe has alien­ated some would- be al­lies who com­plain not only about his pro­posal but also about what they per­ceive as heavy­handed tac­tics. They have ac­cused his party of try­ing to stif le news cov­er­age of the is­sue.

“Abe is in­creas­ingly like a dic­ta­tor,” said Makoto Koga, a for­mer leader of the Lib­eral Democrats, in an in­ter­view in the monthly mag­a­zine Zaiten. “It’s a dark and creepy regime.”

Fran­cis R. Malasig Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

AN OF­FI­CER in Ja­pan’s Self- De­fense Forces. Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe wants the na­tion’s mil­i­tary to be al­lowed to de­fend its al­lies if Ja­pan’s sur­vival is at stake.

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