Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Aso Cabinet's Desperate Struggle

The resignation of Internal Affairs Minister Kunio Hatoyama may be the final blow for the Aso Cabinet. Support for the Cabinet is plummeting. The likelihood of regime change in the next election is rising. On June 14, Chiba City voters elected as their mayor Toshihito Kumagai, a 31-year-old candidate backed by the Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party. Recently, the DPJ-backed candidates won mayoral races in Saitama and Nagoya cities. For the Liberal Democratic Party, it's an avalanche of bad news. Now the Tokyo assembly elections are looking tough for the LDP and coalition partner New Komeito.

More voices are calling for political change. The opposition parties are in their element. An energetic event on June 11 at the Parliamentary Museum hinted that political change was near as Shizuka Kamei, chief of the People's New Party, delivered a speech entitled, "What Should Japan Do?" DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama dropped in to say a few words at the seminar, and he was received as if he were already Japan's next prime minister.

Ever since the DPJ changed leaders in mid-May, public opinion has been changing. Then there came the resignation of the internal affairs minister. The Aso Cabinet is struggling to survive.
The LDP is still planning to go into the general election with the Aso Cabinet, which the public has found wanting. It is asking for voters to trust and respect this Cabinet. More than a few voters are disappointed with the party's tone-deaf approach. The party is starting to shed supporters as well as hopes for the future.

As I travel around the country, I pick up a lot of information. For example, in one region, a religious organization that supports the New Komeito Party has told its members that it should vote for New Komeito in the proportional part of the vote but they are free to back any candidate in the electoral district vote. The LDP, forged in 1955 by combining two parties, used to be a better political party. The end of the LDP is near.

The party needs to reflect on its actions. It must acknowledge the mistakes it has made with the Koizumi-Takenaka structural reforms and the appointment of Aso as prime minister. This wrong-headedness will bring them ruin. Never be afraid to correct a mistake.

The old LDP had some flexibility. Today's party leaders just seem to get more rigid. The party needs to find a new leader and a new set of policies to ride into the election. The next Cabinet will be focused on managing the election. The Hatoyama-led DPJ is all set. But the LDP needs to muster the courage to resign and stand unadorned in front of the electorate to await the voters' judgment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Remembering the Struggle for Sunagawa in the Summer of '57

Many people are aware that in April 2008 an international conflict specialist discovered previously classified documents in the US National Archives. That person was Shouji Shinbara.

Shinbara discovered that MacArthur, then ambassador to Japan, secretly met with Foreign Minister Aichiro Fujiyama and Supreme Court Chief Justice Kotaro Tanaka to get them to overturn the decision reached in March 1959 by Judge Date that acquitted the seven protesters (arrested for trespassing on the US military base in Tachikawa; they were protesting the base's expansion). This is an extremely important discovery.

Shinbara-san delivered a lecture in December 2008 on the Date Decision and the Sunagawa Struggle in Tachikawa city. His speech was published in the July 2009 issue of Zenei magazine. He sent me a very polite letter and a copy of the magazine. In the letter he wrote that "I may have included many misinterpretations because I know little about the Sunagawa Struggle," but based on my reading, his description is accurate. He speaks the truth.

The Date Decision said that the presence of US military troops in Japan is unconstitutional. I believe that is a correct reading. But the US ambassador secretly worked to overturn this ruling. This was a turning point in Japan's postwar history. We need to revive the spirit of the Date Decision: The presence of US troops in Japan is unconstitutional.

Shinbara's lecture — "A Half Century after the Sunagawa Struggle: The Inside Story Revealed by the Secret American Documents" — turns a new page in the research of postwar Japan.

As a participant in the Sunagawa Struggle, I recognize that it (especially the Date Decision and the way the Supreme Court and the Japanese government worked together) was a turning point in Japan's postwar history, but there wasn't documentation to prove my point. Shinbara-san's discovery of the secret US documents provided that proof. His contribution has been immense. I feel deep respect for him.

The Sunagawa Struggle had three peaks to it: the autumns of 1955 and 56, and the summer of 1957. On the third phase of the struggle, protesters entered the US military base. Seven people participating in the demonstration were prosecuted under a special law based on the first US-Japan security pact. The first ruling in the case, from a Tokyo district court, was the Date Decision. Shinbara describes it:

"The presiding judge in the Date Decision looked at the presence of US military in Japan as a case of the Japanese government requesting those troops. The presence of a military command was beside the point. The judge said he could not help but say that this violated Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits Japan from having a military force ... therefore the US military presence is unconstitutional."

Exactly. Ambassador MacArthur worked to overturn this ruling by meeting secretly with Foreign Minister Fujiyama and then Supreme Court Chief Justice Tanaka (proof of which Shinbara discovered during his research). Before a revised version of the US-Japan Security Treaty was signed, the Supreme Court overturned the Date Decision and buried it.

Based on this, both the US and Japan governments prepared to force through the legal ratification and signing of the revised US-Japan Security Treaty. When the two governments had erased the Date Decision, Japan had been cast permanently as a subordinate of the United States.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why I'm So Tough on the DPJ

I recently had a phone call from T-san, a friend from my student days. He's a moderate on defense who has always supported the Liberal Democratic Party. However, these days he's anti-LDP.

"I don't even want to see Prime Minister Taro Aso's face anymore," T-san told me. "The LDP-New Komeito coalition government has been ugly. You've been pretty tough on the Democratic Party of Japan recently, but even if the DPJ has its faults, it would still be better than the Aso Cabinet. I'm not one to talk about voting with my family, but this time I did discuss it with family members who are eligible to vote. I don't know how they will all vote, but I don't think there is anyone who supports both the LDP and the New Komeito Party. If we don't change this LDP-New Komeito administration, Japan won't progress. I don't know if Hatoyama will be good, but he'll be better than Aso. I've had it with this ruling coalition. We need change."

I've talked with three friends in recent days who've all said the same thing: "I've had it with the Aso government."

When Ichiro Ozawa ruled the DPJ, a lot of people would say that they couldn't bring themselves to support either party and saw no other route but abstention. I would tell these people, "How about the People's New Party and the Social Democratic Party? Support one of those."

As long as the LDP puts its fate in the hands of an Aso-led government, the party doesn't have a prayer. The possibility of a Hatoyama-led government is very likely. It's not that I don't understand the disgust my friends feel for the Aso administration; it's just that if a Hatoyama administration is likely, we ought to say what we really think about it. The responsibilities of a ruling party are heavy. I want the DPJ to grow into a good party. I don't want to see the new ruling party governing poorly. That's why I'll continue criticizing the DPJ.

When we talk about a Hatoyama administration, the reality is it will be a Hatoyama-Ozawa administration. The man holding the strings in that administration will be Ozawa. He will be taking power for his own purposes, and he hasn't bothered to inform the public of just what a DPJ government will do. Electing a Hatoyama-Ozawa government means giving Ozawa carte blanche to run the government. That, more than anything else, is what the DPJ needs to watch.
I think the DPJ can bring in about 67% of the vote. Even if Aso resigns and another prime minister is selected before the election, the DPJ would still have the upper hand, I think.

An election is not just about the past; it's about the future. At this point, voting for the future seems the most important thing to do. That's why I believe we need to push the DPJ as much as we can.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The DPJ Shouldn't Cooperate in Northern Territories Debate

I don't know what upper house member Naoki Minezaki's intentions were when he jumped into the "3.5 island" debate about the Northern Territories, but it's not easy to agree with the Democratic Party of Japan's choice to force itself into the debate.

To preserve our peace treaty with Russia, we need to solve the Northern Territories issue. In 1956 when then Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama visited the Soviet Union, both countries (the Japanese government and the Soviet government) agreed on the idea that two islands should be returned. After that, the US exerted its influence to prop up a faction in favor of demanding the return of all four islands, a stance that eventually gained a majority and continues to reign today. Japan has stuck to that stance without budging an inch since then. There's no way to bring about a permanent peace between the two countries with the current status quo. The governments of both countries should find a compromise to further peace treaty negotiations. The Japanese government should take a flexible stance. The 3.5 island theory may have come about in an attempt to offer that flexibility.

However, the mass media and certain politicians are taking a very hard line on this issue. I would like to see at least the DPJ keep a flexible and open attitude.

Political change is near. A DPJ administration is right in front of us. An inflexible approach brings about 100 harms without one single benefit. If there is a new Hatoyama administration, the extension of a peace treaty with Russia becomes an important diplomatic issue. We'll need his initiative to bring about that extended peace. We don't need any foolishness that hems him in and limits our options.