EDITORIAL: Koike must keep promise, push policies that help Tokyo citizens
Former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike was elected Tokyo’s new governor on July 31, becoming the first female chief of the capital’s government. We hope Koike will capitalize on her trademark ability to send out effective messages in her role as the public face of Japan’s capital.
Koike won a landslide victory in the gubernatorial election despite failing to receive the endorsement of her Liberal Democratic Party, which fielded another candidate. The ruling party’s decision, based primarily on its partisan interests, probably provoked a backlash among voters in Tokyo.
The process in which opposition parties led by the Democratic Party chose a unified candidate also confused many voters.
During her campaign, Koike pledged to put priority on the interests of individual citizens. She should be true to her words and push through reforms to shift the focus of Tokyo’s policymaking from the interests of specific organizations to those of the entire population of the capital.
Koike needs to provide leadership to resolve a wide range of tough policy challenges, from the rapidly aging population to disaster preparedness for a huge earthquake that many experts warn could occur directly under Tokyo.
In particular, she must immediately review the financing plan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, focusing on the capital’s contribution. The total cost for the event, initially estimated at 700 billion yen ($6.8 billion), is now expected to balloon to 2 trillion yen or even 3 trillion yen. The challenge for Koike is to figure out ways to reduce the cost and decide on an appropriate burden for Tokyo.
Both the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the LDP members of the metropolitan assembly are calling for an increase in the capital’s share of the cost burden, emphasizing Tokyo’s responsibility due to its bid to host the event.
Discussing the issue, Koike criticized the Tokyo government’s opaque policymaking process as a “black box” and called for greater transparency. The issue of financing the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will test her commitment to addressing the issue.
In an Asahi Shimbun survey of voters in Tokyo, “education and child-care support” was cited by the largest number of respondents as the policy area that they wanted the new governor to prioritize.
Tokyo’s child-care support for its citizens has national implications. Many young people who moved from rural areas to Tokyo are giving up having children because of an unfavorable environment for rearing children. This problem is accelerating Japan’s demographic decline.
During her campaign, Koike proposed various ideas to solve the problem of the estimated 8,500 children on waiting lists for day-care centers. Her ideas included the use of land owned by the metropolitan government and higher pay for child-care workers. Koike needs to make steady efforts to deal with this challenge.
On the other hand, Koike talked little about education.
She once argued that tragic incidents involving children, such as murders of family members, were a result of Japan’s “self-deprecating education” in the postwar period.
The Japan Society for History Textbook Reform, an organization devoted to helping the nation “overcome masochistic historical views,” backed Koike in the election, saying she was the only major candidate who supported its activities.
The law on regional educational administration was revised in 2014 to enhance the power of local government chiefs over education policy decisions. Instead of using her power as the governor to promote education based on specific values, Koike should serve as a champion of “diversity,” which she pledged to promote, in education.
In announcing her candidacy, Koike emphasized she was ready to confront the LDP in the metropolitan assembly. We welcome her stance if that means true competition for better, citizen-focused policies through serious debate at the assembly.
But we have had enough of the petty political fights over parochial interests.
After the resignation of two Tokyo governors--Naoki Inose and Yoichi Masuzoe--amid scandals, there is no room for further stagnation in the capital’s efforts to tackle its key policy challenges.
EDITORIAL: BOJ must free itself from the shackles of state policy
The Bank of Japan has decided to open the monetary spigot further. The central bank said July 29 that it will double its annual purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETF) to 6 trillion yen ($58.8 billion).
The BOJ’s action came as a response to a request for further monetary expansion from the Abe administration, which will soon unveil a huge package of policy measures to stoke economic growth. The program will come in at 28 trillion yen.
The central bank has already taken radical steps to pump money into the economy, by setting negative interest rates and making massive purchases of government bonds. As experts have warned that expanding these measures would be ineffective and even harmful, the BOJ, apparently under pressure to play ball with the government, resorted to one of the few remaining options.
The thinking behind the monetary policy is to ensure that the Japanese economy will continue stable and sustained growth.
It is doubtful whether the central bank’s latest move will serve this purpose.
In the latest of its quarterly “Outlook for Economic Activity and Prices” report, released on July 29, the BOJ said the economy “has continued its moderate recovery trend” and “is likely to be on a moderate expanding trend.”
A clutch of economic indicators confirmed the BOJ’s assessment, indicating the economy is on a stable footing. The ratio of job offers to job seekers has risen above 1 in all the 47 prefectures for the first time since such records started being kept.
Even though there is a degree of uncertainty in European and emerging economies, no compelling case can be made for putting together an outsized package of economic stimulus measures at this moment. The BOJ should have taken exception to the administration’s plan, but the central bank has instead provided support to the administration through the additional monetary easing.
The BOJ deserves to be criticized for following the government’s lead into a questionable move.
Two of the nine members of the BOJ’s Policy Board, which makes the bank’s policy decisions, voiced opposition to the proposal to increase the purchases of ETFs, investment vehicles traded on stock exchanges.
They argued, quite reasonably, that the step would have negative effects on price formation in the market. But such dissenting voices within the central bank’s policy-making body are now more unlikely to be heard than before because the Abe administration has replaced retiring members with supporters of the prime minister's "Abenomics" economic policy. The two members opposed to the latest action are both private-sector economists who joined the Policy Board before Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012.
If the Policy Board is dominated by similar-minded members, it will lose its ability to check the aggressive and controversial “different dimension” monetary expansion policy that has been promoted by BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda.
We are concerned that the BOJ might become even more inclined to adopt a monetary policy supportive of the administration’s agenda.
But the Policy Board should be given credit for refraining from an expansion of the negative interest rate policy, which could put an additional strain on the financial health of banks, and also from an increase in the amount of government bonds bought by the BOJ, which could be seen as the central bank’s attempt to finance government spending.
Markets had warned that failing to take these steps would trigger the yen’s upswing as well as a major stock market decline. But this view itself reflects a distorted relationship between monetary policy and financial markets.
The BOJ’s excessive monetary expansion is now doing more harm than good to both companies and households.
The negative interest rate policy has delivered a serious blow not just to banks but also to pension funds whose investment plans have gone awry due to the measure.
To bring its monetary policy back to a normal state, the BOJ should start mapping out an exit strategy for its different dimension monetary easing program as soon as possible.
EDITORIAL: ‘Brexit’ vote must not trigger wave of global nationalism
The British people’s decision to pull their country out of the European Union has sent shock waves across the world.
The stunning decision could turn out to be the biggest tectonic shift in the world order since the end of the Cold War.
A majority of votes cast in the June 23 referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain in the bloc were for “Brexit.” Britons have decided that their country should not be part of an integrated Europe.
Since the end of World War II, Europe has moved steadily toward integration. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will be a historic development that runs counter to this movement, launched with a pledge of no more war in Europe.
Britain is the second largest economy in Europe and has unique global influence, a legacy of the British Empire. Its secession from the EU will have immeasurable effects on the entire world.
The outcome of the referendum is also a sign of the British people's will to resist globalization, which has accelerated since the end of the Cold War. They have run out of patience with the trend of many countries sharing rules on important issues such as immigration and trade.
This anti-globalization sentiment is, however, not unique to Britain. In the United States and in other parts of Europe, groups trying to take advantage of growing public resentment toward globalization to promote their political agenda for closing the doors of their nations are gaining ground.
At a time when countries should make united efforts to counter burgeoning narrow-minded nationalism, Britain has opted to take the path of expanding the scope of its unilateral actions. In mapping out its future course, Britain will have to navigate through uncharted waters.
No matter how the country’s negotiations with the EU over its withdrawal pan out, the two sides should not lose sight of the importance of maintaining close cooperation.
Britain and the EU can secure mutual benefits and contribute to stability in the world only when they work closely together to tackle challenges.
We strongly hope that the two sides will figure out a way to build a new constructive relationship without undermining the movement toward European integration.
CHALLENGE IS HOW TO HEAL THE DIVISION
The outcome of this referendum should not be allowed to serve as a starting point for a new, dark chapter of world history in which citizens around the world become estranged from one another.
The first thing is to heal the rift in British society. The bitterly fought referendum left the nation sharply divided.
Campaign debates were often dominated by remarks designed to emphasize the threats of an economic crisis or immigrants.
Amid heightened tensions due to a heated confrontation between the two camps, a member of parliament in the Remain camp was shot to death.
British society is now gripped by a dangerously charged atmosphere.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who passionately called for votes to remain in the EU, has announced he will step down by autumn.
It is, to be sure, natural for the country to have a new leader to draw up a road map for the future.
But his own Conservative Party has been divided between the Leave and the Remain camps. Scotland, which has a strong sense of belonging to the EU, could make a fresh attempt to become independent.
Britain seems to be in for a prolonged period of political turmoil.
Both Cameron and his successor will have to act swiftly to heal the rift within the country and create a conductive environment for cool-headed discussions on the country’s relations with the EU and its position in the world.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION KEY
Britain, which had a mighty empire in the 19th century, entered a period of serious stagnation in the late 20th century. It was able to shed stagnation and attain new prosperity because it opened its door to the world and rode the wave of globalization to enhance its competitiveness, especially in the financial services industry.
But British citizens who have not benefited from their country’s economic growth have become increasingly disgruntled with the system and worried about their future. As a result, British society as a whole has developed an inward-looking attitude.
Besides people drawn to the reactionary argument that Britain should regain “sovereignty,” many other Britons voted for leaving the EU because of their economic discontent.
Despite the fact that their country has achieved economic growth due to the lowered barriers of national borders, British people have made clear their wish to see high border walls built up again.
This twisted public psychology has also been behind the Trump Phenomenon in the United States and the recent rise of rightist political forces in many other European countries.
Britain’s decision could trigger a wave of movements toward secession from the EU in other member countries.
If in such a political climate Trump is elected U.S. president and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the rightist National Front of France, is elected French president next year, the world will be filled with policies of intolerance.
The situation where the world is dominated by this inward-looking trend must be prevented.
The spread of narrow-minded and self-centered unilateralism among countries will make it impossible for the world to grapple with challenges such as global warming, the proliferation of terrorism and loopholes in taxation.
It is difficult for any industrial nation to maintain its political health.
Low economic growth, declining welfare standards due to fiscal strains and widening income gaps are formidable problems common to industrial nations. Politicians everywhere are struggling to find effective solutions to these problems.
That’s why expanding international cooperation is the only option for countries in tackling these tough challenges.
All nations should reflect afresh on the fact that the only way to deal with problems transcending national borders is through cooperative actions based on collective experiences and wisdom.
We hope Europe will not lose its solid status as a strong, consistent voice for freedom and democratic values.
RESPOND TO MARKET TURBULENCE
The impact of Britain’s decision to leave the EU has roiled stock and currency markets. Leading nations should first focus on responding to confusion in financial markets.
In addition to Britain and the EU, the Group of Seven major industrial nations, which also includes Japan and the United States, should play the leading role in securing emergency policy coordination to calm the unnerved markets.
The central banks of the major countries, including the Bank of Japan, are apparently prepared to cooperate in providing cash-strapped financial institutions with dollars.
If an unpredictable situation or the necessity of emergency responses arises, they should take flexible and powerful actions in solid cooperation to prevent a full-blown financial crisis.
EDITORIAL: The meaning behind June 23 should be shared beyond Okinawa
Okinawa recalled its horrifying experiences in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa and consoled the spirits of the victims on June 23, the 71st anniversary of the end of the bloody warfare. June 23 is a prefecture-designated holiday marking the end of organized fighting by Japanese troops deployed to the southern island prefecture.
More than seven decades since the end of the devastating battle in the final days of the Pacific War, many scars are left unhealed in Okinawa.
U.S. military bases, for instance, occupy 10 percent of the prefecture’s land. Unexploded shells are still discovered frequently in various parts of the prefecture. The remains of the war dead are found in road construction sites.
More than 100 sets of remains are uncovered every year. In the last fiscal year, which ended in March, the remains of 103 bodies were discovered. The numbers for the preceding two years were 194 and 263, respectively.
More than 200,000 people died in the Battle of Okinawa. By March this year, 185,224 sets of remains of Japanese war dead had been laid to rest at the national cemetery for people who died in the Battle of Okinawa in the Mabuni district of Itoman, the site of the last major fighting in the warfare, according to the prefectural government.
The remains of nearly 3,000 Japanese victims have yet to be found.
In the Battle of Okinawa, 66,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians in the military services from other parts of Japan died along with 28,000 from Okinawa Prefecture. In addition, an estimated 94,000 non-military residents of the prefecture, or a quarter of the prefectural population, were killed.
Although many remains are still waiting to be discovered, the task of gathering them has been left to private-sector volunteers. As a result, the work has been proceeding at a glacial pace.
A law mandating the government to collect all remains of the war dead finally came into force in April.
In response, the government has decided to make intensive efforts to collect the remains over the next nine years. The government should take this opportunity to make up for lost time.
The June 23 official memorial ceremony, sponsored by the prefectural government, was held at the Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni. But a spirit-consoling service was also held in front of the gate of Camp Schwab, a U.S. military base in the Henoko district of Nago.
Immediately after the Battle of Okinawa ended, the U.S. military established an internment camp for Japanese civilians. Many residents of the prefecture, ranging from an estimated 20,000 to 40,000, spent several months in the camp. A number of civilian prisoners of war died in the camp from malaria, malnutrition and other reasons.
The construction of Camp Schwab started around 1956. But a citizens group opposed to the proposed relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan in central Okinawa Prefecture to Henoko started holding the spirit-consoling service last year, believing there are still unfound remains within the camp.
With the law promoting the collection of war dead remains taking effect, the government has pledged to carry out such work in U.S. bases as well.
The U.S. military should cooperate with efforts to ensure an early completion of the project.
People in Okinawa are still suffering from the excessive burden of hosting so many U.S. military bases within their prefecture. The central government has stuck stubbornly to the Futenma relocation plan despite strong opposition among people in Okinawa.
The prefecture was recently shocked by the arrest of a former U.S. Marine working as a civilian at the Kadena Air Base in the prefecture on suspicion of raping and murdering a 20-year-old woman. Her body was found in a wooded area after she went missing in late April.
The suffering of Okinawan people due to the heavy U.S. military presence in the prefecture is inseparable from their memories of the Battle of Okinawa.
The central government and Japanese living in the mainland need to understand the full meaning of June 23 and reflect afresh on the history of suffering experienced by people in Okinawa.
EDITORIAL: 'Strategic voting' is a must for pivotal Upper House election
（社説）参院選 きょう公示 戦略的投票でこたえよう
Campaigning for the July 10 Upper House election kicked off on June 22.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making the economy the main issue. But there is no question that constitutional amendment will also be at stake, even though Abe says it is not necessary for it to become an election issue. His reasoning is that the Diet needs to debate this subject further.
Abe is more than eager to revise the Constitution. But with the prime minister giving no indication whatsoever of which parts of the Constitution he intends to rewrite and how, voters have no way of forming a judgment.
Abe is conducting politics the "wrong side up" or "back to front." Do we voters allow such an approach to escalate, or do we put the brakes on it? This Upper House election definitely carries far more weight than a mere "midterm evaluation" of the Abe administration.
NOT REFLECTING POPULAR WILL
This will be the second Upper House election since Abe began his second stint as prime minister in December 2012. In retrospect, Abe became the "sole winner" by bringing both chambers of the Diet under the control of the ruling coalition with the previous Upper House election in 2013, which was seven months after the change in government from the then Democratic Party of Japan.
Voters who voted for the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, now called Komeito, in that election were apparently disgusted by the inefficacy of the DPJ administration, and wanted the LDP-New Komeito coalition to stabilize politics and focus on improving the Japanese economy.
After that Upper House election three years ago, we wrote in our editorial that the government should not be "divorced from popular will."
We wondered if the wages would go up for small and midsize company workers and those working outside the big cities. We wondered if the Abe administration would be able to secure revenues needed to stabilize the health-care and social security systems. And the thrust of our argument was that should Abe ignore these concerns and proceed instead with his policy of "departure from the postwar regime," he would be betraying the wishes of the people.
We believe we have been proven right, given the continuing surge of popular protest against the Abe administration since the enactment of national security legislation last year.
In the upcoming election, Abe says the focal point is to seek the public's approval of his "new decision" of postponing the consumption tax hike. By stressing economic statistics such as increased tax revenues and employment, he is telling voters to decide whether they want "Abenomics" to advance or regress.
The proper thing for Abe is to take responsibility for reneging on his promise to raise the consumption tax rate “for certain." But in not doing so, he appears to be taking advantage of the honest feelings of many people who are reluctant to "swallow the bitter medicine" of paying a higher consumption tax.
Abe has said that the victory depends on "the ruling coalition winning a majority of contested seats." Setting the goal may demonstrate his resolve, but whether he will step down if he fails to achieve that goal is anyone's guess.
LOW VOTER TURNOUT CONTINUES
The ruling coalition of Abe's LDP and Komeito has won three national elections in a row since 2012. And one common factor among the three polls was low voter turnout.
The rates were at the 59 percent level for the 2012 Lower House election and at the 52 percent level for both the 2013 Upper House election and the 2014 Lower House election. Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest in the postwar history of Lower House elections.
The difference is substantial from the nearly 70 percent voter turnout in the 2009 Lower House election that resulted in the historic change in government. In terms of the number of voters, 72.02 million people voted in the 2009 election, whereas only 54.74 million people did so in the 2014 election. To put this simply, about 17 million voters stopped going to the polls in the 2014 election.
Between 2009 and 2014, the LDP experienced both its fall from power and return to power, but there actually was no significant difference in the number of votes the party won. In the proportional representation portion, the LDP won less than one out of five votes in each election, when abstentions are taken into account.
In other words, the LDP under Abe has not really gained supporters. Under the current election system, which is prone to create wasted votes, the simple fact is that the drastic decrease in the number of DPJ supporters and the increased number of abstentions have given the LDP more seats than those in proportion to the votes it has actually won.
The Abe administration arbitrarily "reinterpreted" the Constitution to allow the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense, instituted the controversial state secrets protection law, and threatened freedom of the press and the public's right to know by hinting at invoking the Broadcast Law.
Not only has the Abe administration marginalized the constraints of the Constitution, but it is now trying to start debate on revising the Constitution without seeking the public's input in the upcoming election.
But what can we voters do about the dangers of the administration?
VOTING OUT 'BAD' CANDIDATES
"Strategic voting" is one way to use each vote effectively.
This may be an unfamiliar term, but one example is to vote for candidates−even if they are not one’s best choices--who have a chance to defeat the party or candidate one definitely does not want.
Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901), whom Abe often quotes in his speeches, once observed to the effect, "Government is not 'good' by nature. What needs to be borne in mind is to acknowledge the reality of how bad it is."
Political scientist Masao Maruyama (1914-1996) commented on Fukuzawa's observation after World War II: "A political choice is made on the basis of how bad something is."
The failure of the DPJ administration is still fresh in many people's minds. The low voter turnout rates that have continued since the party's fall from power apparently reflect the people's disillusionment with politics and sense of helplessness.
But if nothing is done about this, not only will democracy deteriorate, but constitutionalism will also be in grave danger.
Even if we don't have any candidate or party we want to support, we must make up our minds to go to the polls to stop what we see as "bad" from winning the election.
And we have until July 10 to think through how effectively we can use our two ballots--one for the single-seat electorate and the other for the proportional representation portion.
With 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds voting for the first time, the older generation cannot just sit out this upcoming election.
EDITORIAL: China interprets international law to suit its convenience
A Chinese naval intelligence ship entered Japanese territorial waters off Kagoshima Prefecture on June 15, just six days after Tokyo filed a strong protest over the entry of a Chinese naval frigate into Japan's contiguous zone near the disputed Senkaku Islands.
Coincidence? We think not.
These incidents clearly signal China’s intention to achieve its aims while ignoring the security concerns of neighboring countries.
The Chinese government contends that passage of the warship through Japanese territorial waters was legal under freedom of navigation laws. China's Defense Ministry argues that the Tokara Strait south of Yakushima island in southern Japan is “a strait within territorial waters used for international navigation.”
“The Chinese warship’s passage was based on the principle of freedom of navigation that is stipulated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” a Chinese defense official said.
If the Tokara Strait is actually an international strait, as Beijing contends, it is, to be sure, open to the passage of foreign vessels, including warships, even though it lies in Japanese territorial waters.
But it is hard to believe that the Chinese spy ship was simply passing through the strait minding its own business. What was it actually doing?
The Chinese ship entered Japanese territorial waters shadowing Indian warships that were participating in an exercise involving Japan, the United States and India. The Chinese vessel may have been monitoring the Indian ships.
The Chinese government has not offered a clear or specific explanation for the warship's presence. It has only said the ship was engaged in “a drill in the open sea.”
It was the second time for a Chinese warship to enter Japanese territorial waters since a nuclear-powered submarine was sighted around the Sakishima islands in Okinawa Prefecture in November 2004.
The submarine violated international law by entering Japanese territorial waters submerged. At that time, the Chinese government admitted that the vessel had strayed into Japanese territory by mistake.
During the 12 years since then, China has aggressively beefed up its Navy and become increasingly assertive in expanding its naval presence.
China has used its naval muscle to stake out a position without holding any talks with the countries concerned, and then tried to justify its behavior by interpreting international law in a way that suits its purpose.
If Beijing continues acting this way, tensions in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea will keep growing.
If China really respects the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, how does it explain its moves to unilaterally draw up a demarcation line called the “nine-dash line” to claim the major part of the South China Sea and forcefully reclaim reefs in disputed areas?
How can it justify its refusal to respect the ruling that the international Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to hand down soon over the validity of China’s claim based on the line in response to a case filed by the Philippines?
The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed concern about the situation in the South China Sea during a June 14 meeting with their Chinese counterpart in China’s Yunnan Province.
China apparently wanted to highlight its close ties with ASEAN in the special foreign ministers’ meeting, but, not surprisingly, the outcome was the opposite of what was intended.
China is one of the world's leading countries, and it should take responsibility for peace in Asia.
But China has at times ignored the rules and norms of the global community and at other times used them to justify its dubious actions. The way China has been behaving has made it impossible for its neighbors to trust it.
China is not only disturbing the tranquility of the high seas, it is also treating principles of international law as if they were at its disposal. We are deeply concerned about China’s attitude.
EDITORIAL: Abe’s silence on Constitution suggests another election trick
（社説）参院選 改憲の是非 正面から問わぬ不実
Parties have effectively started campaigning for the July 10 Upper House election, with their leaders delivering speeches on the streets and their platforms now available to the public.
Conspicuously missing from the ruling camp’s campaign is the argument for constitutional amendments.
It is widely known that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s biggest political goal is to revise the postwar Constitution.
During the latest Diet session, Abe repeatedly expressed his desire to pursue this goal. “I intend to seek public support during the campaign for the Upper House election,” he said. “I wish to achieve (the goal) while I’m in office.”
But Abe has not referred to the issue even once in his campaign speeches so far.
In sharp contrast, Katsuya Okada, president of the main opposition Democratic Party, has made the issue a top priority in his campaign strategy.
Okada has clearly expressed his party’s opposition to Abe’s bid to revise war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution as one of the party’s two central campaign promises and discussed the issue with great vigor in his speeches.
The proposal to amend the Constitution is a grave political issue the Japanese public has never faced as a real possibility in the postwar era.
If Abe wants to achieve this goal, he should cast the proposal as a principal campaign topic.
However, Abe has been oddly quiet about this issue, a radical change from his eloquence in arguing for the initiative.
If he is trying to prevent the touchy issue from becoming a major campaign topic, he should be accused of acting in an insincere manner.
In a 26-page booklet on its campaign platform, the LDP refers to constitutional amendments only in the last two items.
The party only discusses the issue in regard to the two new combined constituencies created by combining two prefecture-based electoral districts to narrow vote-value disparities. These constituencies will be introduced in the Upper House election.
The LDP pledges to reassess the appropriateness of the method and explore options to eliminate such cross-prefecture constituencies, including a constitutional amendment.
“We will promote debate on the issue at the Commissions on the Constitution at both (Diet) houses and seek cooperation with other parties while trying to build broad public consensus for constitutional amendments,” the party’s platform says.
These passages appear to suggest that the LDP plans to start its constitutional amendment initiative with changes to provisions related to combined constituencies.
But LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada has not endorsed this view, saying there are various opinions about the approach.
The LDP has thus left it unclear to voters which constitutional provisions it will try to change and in what ways.
The LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, doesn’t even touch on constitutional amendments in its campaign platform.
Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi has said amendments will not be a key campaign topic for the Upper House election because “there has been no mature debate” on the issue.
Neither the LDP nor Komeito is willing to make a straightforward appeal to the public to support the proposal to rewrite the Constitution.
Under these circumstances, even if the two parties and their political allies win the two-thirds majority in the chamber needed to initiate the formal process of constitutional revision, they must not be allowed to start pursuing the initiative with sudden zeal after the election.
The Abe administration has a history of deliberately sidestepping debate on divisive policies during election campaigns. After the ruling camp wins a majority, however, the administration suddenly starts pushing through such policies by claiming it has won a public mandate to do so.
The state secrets protection law and new national security legislation, which were enacted in 2013 and 2015, respectively, are two examples of the administration’s sneaky way to achieve its policy goals.
The four kanji characters representing “constitutional amendments” are written in small print at the end of the LDP’s campaign platform. They may be a sign of the party’s intention to use such tactics again to push through its initiative to amend the Constitution. We should not allow the party to do so.
EDITORIAL: Brexit vote worst outcome for U.K., Europe and rest of the world
The outcome of Britain's June 23 referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union has major ramifications not only for the future of Britain and Europe, but also the entire world.
Sections of the British public have always harbored a deep desire to keep some distance from the EU. But if Britain actually does pull out of the EU, a major shakeup will be a certainty for the British economy as well as the global marketplace.
And the political repercussions will be incalculable. A vote to "Leave" would create a rift in Europe's solidarity over many of its shared problems with respect to immigration and counterterrorism.
The EU's influence on the rest of the world would weaken, and that could well affect the way international law on human rights and democracy is upheld by the international community.
The departure from the EU by any of its current members is bound to reverse the trend toward European integration that has been in place since the 1950s.
In this age of ever-increasing traffic of people and goods across international borders, any momentum toward isolation will render it even more difficult to resolve global problems.
Britain is a major power that ought to be a acting as a strong leader in encouraging international cooperation, not a nation that turns its back on European unity to try to go it alone. We strongly hope Britain will choose to remain in the EU.
Instead of parting ways with the rest of Europe, we hope Britain will continue as a member of the EU and cooperate with all countries while seeking its own prosperity.
In past opinion polls, British public opinion tended to be more in favor of remaining in the Union than against. However, the pendulum has begun to swing in recent weeks.
One of the main reasons for this is said to be the immigrant issue. There is a growing call in Britain for it to be free of the EU's immigrant policy so that it can explore its own destiny.
As evidenced by the "Trump phenomenon" in the United States and the surge of ultra-right forces in parts of Europe, an isolationist mentality is spreading around the world. British public opinion seems to have been influenced by this.
But we want British citizens to stop and think: That the only reason Britain managed to pull itself out of decades of postwar decline and achieve its present prosperity was that its openness to the rest of the world enabled it to benefit from the global economy. This reality can neither be changed nor denied today.
One thing that bothers us is that discussions in Britain about the June 23 referendum seem to be focused almost entirely on economic and immigrant issues, and we hear very little about how the Britons are looking at the big picture.
What sort of relationship should Britain maintain with continental Europe? This is the sort of question that needs to be debated at length and in depth in the context of the history of civilization, until the public is truly ready to reach a consensus.
For the sake of the future of Britain as well as the rest of the world, we hope British citizens will make a decision that is objective and carefully thought out.
EDITORIAL: Masuzoe must explain spending with own words, not legal babble
Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe is grossly mistaken if he thinks he has offered convincing answers to questions about his qualifications to head the capital’s government and the administration itself. Serious doubts still remain following revelations about his spending of taxpayer money for personal use.
In recent sessions of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, Masuzoe was bombarded with questions about his dubious expenditures on hotels, meals, books and artwork. （過剰英訳です）
Tokyo citizens wanted to hear Masuzoe’s own thoughts concerning his moral responsibility for using public money for personal purposes, not the opinions of the lawyers who have scrutinized his questionable expenditures and drawn up a report on their findings.
Assembly members who questioned the governor repeatedly urged him to speak with his own words.
But Masuzoe only reiterated cookie-cutter comments about his “soul-searching” over the spending. He refused to offer the related details he must have discussed with the lawyers or specific measures to fix the problem.
Still, he dared to say, “I wish to regain public trust by fulfilling my responsibility to explain in this way.” This comment sounds like nothing but an expression of defiance.
Masuzoe liked to say the metropolitan assembly represents the capital’s public. But his remarks in the assembly sessions suggest his disrespect for the assembly.
He appears unable to even recognize what is the real issue.
If he really spent part of his political funds, including public money, for personal purchases, he should at least be accused of betraying the trust of taxpayers.
He has worsened matters by failing to fulfill his responsibility to answer the questions raised, causing confusion and disruptions in the work of the metropolitan government.
After seeing how he has responded to the scandal, most citizens of the capital are naturally unwilling to support his desire to retain his post.
The lawyers announced their report on his spending on June 6, the day before the metropolitan assembly started its session. The report said millions of yen in Masuzoe’s expenditures on hotel stays with his family, meals and artwork were “inappropriate.”
Masuzoe needs to take this judgment seriously.
The report includes some telltale signs of his stance toward political funds. When he was asked about his purchase of a book on making soba (buckwheat noodles), for example, Masuzoe reportedly tried to justify the spending by saying, “I once discussed politics while making soba, and the book has been useful for my political activities.”
As for his purchase of historical novels, he said he had bought it “for studying Edo Period customs,” according to the report.
He made it sound like all aspects of his life were related to politics.
Masuzoe described the report as a “harsh” assessment of his expenditures. But most ordinary citizens don’t share his view.
The report didn’t question the appropriateness of his purchases of many calligraphy works, saying they also served both his hobby and his interests as a politician.
As for a silk Chinese outfit he bought in Shanghai, Masuzoe reportedly claimed he could move his ink brush smoothly in calligraphy when he wears the robe. The lawyers accepted Masuzoe’s explanation as “specific and convincing.”
Does the governor intend to continue such expenditures now that they have judged to be “appropriate?”
What does he think about assembly members’ call for him to make a “painful decision?” Masuzoe needs to offer honest and straightforward answers to these questions.
The metropolitan assembly, for its part, is responsible for making an exhaustive inquiry into the governor’s dubious expenditures.
Members of the assembly’s general affairs committee should rigorously investigate the scandal during an intensive session on the topic expected to be held as early as next week.
EDITORIAL: Amending the Constitution is hidden focus of Upper House poll
（社説）参院選 論戦スタートへ 語られざる「改憲」を問う
The focus of attention in the political community has shifted to the July 10 Upper House election as the brouhaha over the consumption tax hike and the possibility of simultaneous Upper and Lower House elections has blown over.
Debate on key policy issues at the Diet was drowned out in the political noise in the final days of this year’s regular session.
What topics will Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other politicians address during their election campaigns?
Abe has cast his economic policy, or Abenomics, as the central issue of the election and expressed his intention to seek a public mandate for his recent decision to postpone the scheduled consumption tax increase.
Voters will naturally consider these issues at the polls. But they don’t have to focus only on the issues played up by the administration.
One important topic requires careful attention by voters although politicians are not eager to discuss it. That is constitutional amendments.
Abe has said his key target for the Upper House election is securing a two-thirds majority for his Liberal Democratic Party, its junior coalition partner, Komeito, and other parties willing to support his initiative to amend the Constitution.
If the target is reached, Abe will have a much better chance of proceeding with his plan to get the Diet to initiate constitutional amendments, through a concurring two-thirds vote of all the members of each chamber, for a national referendum on the proposed changes.
That will, of course, be the first actual attempt to rewrite the postwar Constitution under the formal procedures for amendments.
The question of whether to hand an overwhelming two-thirds majority in both chambers to the Abe administration and its political allies is the biggest issue of the upcoming election, even though it is overshadowed by debate on the economy.
The results of the election could put the nation at a major turning point in its postwar history.
FRESH DEBATE ON SECURITY LEGISLATION NEEDED
Let us look back on what happened in the Upper House, which is called “the Seat of Common Sense,” eight months ago.
At a Sept. 17 session of the special committee on the new national security legislation, committee members suddenly made a dash for the chairman’s seat, triggering a scuffle amid angry roars. From time to time, ruling camp lawmakers stood with both hands raised in response to cues. People watching the session on TV were clueless to what was occurring.
This ugly scene was how the package of security bills, which effectively revises the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, was actually enacted.
In June last year, three constitutional scholars told the Lower House Commission on the Constitution that the legislation is unconstitutional. Their comments led many lawmakers to subscribe to the view that the legislation violates the Constitution, causing a bitter division among the public.
The bills should have been carried over to the next Diet session for further debate. Instead of resorting to persuasion by reason, however, the Abe administration extended the session and used the power of a majority to engineer the forceful passage of the bills through the Diet in the face of strong opposition due to doubts about their constitutionality.
The July Upper House poll will offer a great opportunity for fresh debate on the legislation.
CHANGES IN STANCE BEFORE AND AFTER ELECTIONS
Since the beginning of this year, Abe has made clear his desire to embark on amending the Constitution after the Upper House election.
In January, he pledged in a Diet session to “create a new Constitution with our own hands.” The initiative “has entered the stage of a realistic possibility where discussions are to be held on which provisions should be amended,” he added.
In the recent one-on-one Diet debate with Katsuya Okada, president of the Democratic Party, Abe challenged the largest opposition bloc to come up with its own draft amendments to the Constitution, saying there could be no meaningful debate on the topic unless the opposition party did so.
Abe spoke as if changing the Constitution was a given.
In contrast, other senior LDP politicians are not eager to pursue constitutional amendments.
The LDP’s headquarters to promote constitutional amendments has yet to start considering which provisions should be revised. The Lower House Commission on the Constitution didn’t begin substantial debate on the question in the latest Diet session.
Behind its reluctance to wade into debate on the issue is the lack of solid public support to the initiative.
In an Asahi Shimbun survey, 55 percent of the respondents said there was no need to change the Constitution.
Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the LDP’s General Council, pretty much summed up the dominant sentiment within the ruling party when he said a single-minded pursuit of constitutional amendments would make it difficult for the party to win in the election.
In the past two national elections, the Abe administration focused its campaign on economic issues that have a direct bearing on people’s livelihoods. The administration is adopting the same campaign strategy for this poll.
But the administration drastically changed its political posturing after each of the past two elections.
We should not forget the fact that the administration forged ahead with the passage of the state secrets protection law and the security legislation, which both directly concern such basic principles of the Constitution as the people’s right to know and pacifism, after these past elections.
THE REAL AIM OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT INITIATIVE?
The Constitution, of course, will not be the only element voters will consider when they make their decisions at the polls in July. Policy issues that affect their daily lives are important factors for their choices that need to be weighed carefully.
Let us then examine the economic planks on the parties’ campaign platforms. There aren’t radical differences between the LDP’s vision of a society where 100 million people will play active roles and the Democratic Party’s vision of a “society of symbiosis.” Many parties are proposing more or less similar policies concerning such issues as growth and redistribution, the same wage for same work principle and reducing the number of children on waiting lists for day-care centers.
Given the massive budget deficit and the contraction of the working population, there cannot be wide differences between the ruling and opposition parties in these policies.
On the other hand, the LDP’s constitutional amendment agenda could radically affect certain values we have enjoyed in the postwar era, such as peace and freedom.
The LDP’s draft constitutional amendments are based on views that place the interests of the state before the freedom of individuals. Lurking at the heart of these views is a sentiment that is close to antipathy toward the human rights and individualism espoused by the current Constitution.
In referring to the LDP’s draft constitutional amendments in a June 1 news conference, Abe toned down his usual rhetoric.
“We are not seeking support from two-thirds (of the members of both chambers) for the initiative by promising to make these amendments,” he said.
If he secures an electoral victory, however, Abe may start saying the party has won a public mandate to promote the drafts.
If so, which provisions will he try to change for whatever reasons?
Even if Abe doesn’t talk about these questions, voters should ask, as many times as necessary, vital questions about his real stance toward the Constitution.