Last Friday, a special committee of Japan’s House of Representatives scheduled a Diet hearing for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s proposed security legislation for July 13. The Diet hearing is a prerequisite to putting the legislation to a vote. The LDP and their junior coalition partner, the Komeito Party, hope to pass the bills through the House of Representatives on July 16.
At the very latest, the LDP wants to be able to send the bills to the House of Councillors by July 24 in order to take advantage of the 60-day rule. According to the 60-day rule, once a bill is sent from the lower house to the upper house if 60 days pass and the upper hours does not hold a vote, it can be considered that the upper house rejected the bill. After those 60 days, the lower house can override the “veto” with a two-thirds majority. This is the most effective way to get around the possibility that the upper house could block the legislation simply by delaying a vote on it.
The LDP’s accelerated pace has forced other parties to respond with their own counterproposals in an attempt to slow the process down – ideally, for them, beyond the July 24 deadline.
The Japan Innovation Party (JIP) has been the most proactive in trying to broaden the discussion beyond the LDP’s conception. JIP agrees with the LDP plan to abolish geographical limits on the Self-Defense Force (SDF)’s responses to contingencies around Japan, but wants to limit the use of the SDF to only responding to direct military attacks on Japan and responding to attacks on a foreign military defending Japan that has an obvious risk of leading to a direct military attack on Japan. In essence, they want to prevent the SDF from being able to operate in the Strait of Hormuz and other parts of the world for primarily economic reasons.
Despite the significant differences remaining between the LDP and JIP, the LDP has expressed willingness to talk about the JIP’s proposal because they do not want the legislation to be entirely derailed at this late stage.
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the largest opposition party, has been slower to present a counterproposal. Over the past months, they have focused on criticizing the government instead of providing an alternative vision for Japan’s future security. However, such obstructionism is unproductive and could even be harmful to the DPJ’s public image – and the party is finally starting to realize this.
DPJ Deputy Secretary General Sumio Mabuchi wrote in an e-mail newsletter, “Simply saying it is ‘unconstitutional’ will no longer suffice. We should present a counterproposal to the security legislation.” Currently, a counterproposal is being put together under the leadership of Goshi Hosono, DPJ’s Policy Research Committee Chairman.
Even within the LDP, there is a lone dissident – Asahi describes Seiichiro Murakami as “a single dove in a sky filled with squawking hawks.” At a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on June 30, the veteran member of the House of Representatives lamented the unconstitutionality of the reinterpretation of Article 9. He said, “As the top party of Japan, the LDP should not do anything that is wrong in terms of constitutional theory. … Under the current Constitution, the right to collective self-defense cannot be exercised.”
What is more concerning than the rest of the LDP members’ acquiesce to the party leadership is that some of them do not actually believe the party leadership is right, but are unwilling to publicly speak out. Murakami attests that many lawmakers still stop by at his office to express their support for his position against collective self defense.
From outside the Tokyo political bubble, there is also trouble brewing in Okinawa where local politicians are concerned that Okinawa will be “sacrifice[d]” as the first target of any retaliatory action. Civil society is concerned as well – a petition with 1.65 million signatures was submitted to both houses on June 29.
Though the ruling party’s commitment to passing the new legislation appears unwavering, they should tread cautiously. Delegates and representatives in any democratic form of government have always faced the Burkeian challenge – whether to do what their constituents believe is in their best interest or what the politicians believe is in their constituents’ best interests. Any legislator who votes for the LDP’s legislation should be prepared to clearly articulate why they believe this legislation is in the best interest of Japanese citizens – even if the citizens themselves remain unconvinced.