The Oct. 22 Lower House election will be the first since the Abe administration ramrodded new national security legislation, criticized as "unconstitutional," through the Diet in the face of public opposition.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asserts that the security laws have made the Japan-U.S. security alliance far stronger than ever. He also pledges to win the election so that he can use the fresh popular mandate to pursue a powerful foreign policy agenda.

These remarks show his strong leaning toward expanding the scope of Self-Defense Forces operations under the security legislation and further enhancing the bilateral security alliance.

Although the battle between the ruling and opposition camps is filled with ambiguity and confusion, there is a clear division over the security legislation.

ABE ESCALATING 'NATIONAL CRISIS' RHETORIC

In its campaign platform for the election, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s new Kibo no To (Hope) promises to “implement the existing national security legislation appropriately according to the Constitution.”

The phrase “according to the Constitution” has been added in consideration of the former Democratic Party lawmakers who have joined the party. The Democratic Party had called for the security legislation to be repealed.

But Koike supports the legislation along with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito.

On the other hand, Rikken Minshuto (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan), another new group formed mainly by left-leaning former Democratic Party members, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, are all demanding that the legislation be scrapped, arguing it violates the Constitution.

Abe has billed the security threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as “a national crisis.” He says he will work with the international community to apply maximum pressure on North Korea. “I will use all means available to ramp up pressure (on the country).”

To be sure, a certain degree of pressure needs to be imposed on North Korea, which has shown no signs of halting its nuclear and missile programs. But a military response would inevitably cause tremendous damage to Japan and other neighboring countries.

Abe himself has admitted the importance of pursuing a peaceful solution.

Still, he keeps pushing his national crisis narrative, as if trying to stir a sense of urgency among the public.

It appears that Abe is seeking to use the threat posed by North Korea to boost public support for his leadership so that he can bolster both the SDF and Japan’s security alliance with the United States.

The Abe administration has made it constitutional for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense by changing the long-standing government position that the Constitution doesn’t allow Japan to take the step.

The administration used two decisions to justify its move: the 1959 Supreme Court ruling on the so-called Sunagawa Incident involving a group of activists trespassing into a U.S. military base in Tokyo, which didn’t refer to the right to collective self-defense, and a government view that declared it unconstitutional for Japan to exercise the right.

This is nothing but sophistry.

SDF ACTIVITIES BEYOND CONSTITUTION BOUNDARIES

As a result, the scope of SDF operations has been widened beyond the framework of Japan’s strictly defensive security policy. It is now possible for the SDF to engage in military actions alongside U.S. forces outside Japanese territory even if Japan is not under attack.

The authority to make decisions on such SDF operations is vested in the prime minister and a small number of other Cabinet members, with no sufficient involvement by the Diet, the representatives of the people, being ensured.

Problems with the security legislation are not limited to issues related to North Korea.

The legislation has created the risk that SDF activities could be expanded through discretionary decisions by the government in parts of the world that are not monitored by the public.

Revelations concerning the cover-up of the existence of daily activity logs of Japanese troops in a U.N.-led peacekeeping operation in South Sudan have left no doubt that the system for the government’s control over the SDF is dysfunctional.

There will be full-fledged debate on important security policy issues, including a review of the National Defense Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defense Program, through next year.

Many LDP lawmakers have argued for a sharp increase in defense spending and Japan’s ability to strike enemy targets.

The latest media polls indicate the possibility of the LDP, Komeito, Hope and other groups supporting the security legislation winning an overwhelming majority in the Lower House.

Such a situation could further weaken the Diet involvement in security policy decisions, allowing the Abe administration to expand the SDF’s role at will.

The Lower House election will be an opportunity for assessing Abe’s security policy actions in his five years in office.

The Abe administration has taken a series of steps to reverse the postwar course of the nation.

It has enacted the security legislation and the state secrets protection law, abolished the three principles restricting Japan’s arms exports and reoriented the development aid policy and the space development program with a higher priority on national security concerns.

Abe’s next goal is establishing the SDF’s legal status in the Constitution. In its campaign platform for the Lower House election, the LDP for the first time included a promise to revise the Constitution to specify the SDF as a priority item.

The security legislation and the argument for amending the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution are closely linked.

DEMOCRACY IN QUESTION

The national security legislation has changed the nature of SDF operations.

If the SDF’s status is established in Article 9, the legislation’s role of enabling Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense would be endorsed constitutionally.

Abe says abolishing the security legislation would “deliver an irreparable blow” to the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

But there is no good reason to buy into his argument.

As Rikken Minshuto and others say, a large portion of the security legislation could be covered by actions based on the right to individual self-defense.

It would be possible to review the elements concerning the right to collective self-defense that have been criticized as “unconstitutional” while seeking the understanding of Washington.

Whether or not we should support the Abe administration’s security policy, which has deviated from the pacifist principles of the Constitution, will not be the only question facing voters as they go to the polls on Oct. 22.

What has been missing from Japan’s political scene in the past five years is politics of reason, which requires respect for the Constitution and the democratic process as well as serious efforts to build a broad consensus through debate involving a wide range of people including those with dissenting voices.

We need to ask ourselves whether we will allow the Abe administration to continue, for four more years, its high-handed political approach, which took advantage of the ruling coalition’s majority in both houses in ramming through the national security legislation and the national secrets protection law.

It is up to us, the voters, to determine the future of Japan’s democracy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 13