EDITORIAL: Upper House should respond to public anger, doubts about security bills
Every day, thundering, layered chants by people of all generations and political stripes echo around the Diet building.
“Don’t decide by yourself,” they vociferate in protest against the security legislation now moving through the Diet. “Don’t make light of the people.”
With these cries, they are asking, “Is this really democracy?” and expressing anger about not being respected as “the people with whom sovereign power resides.”
Arrogantly brushing aside the questions and anger raised by the legislation, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito on July 16 forced the package of national security bills through the Lower House.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to assume that the people will eventually forget the way the legislation was rammed through the house. But the people who have sovereign power will never forget the Abe administration’s contempt for them.
Now, it is the Upper House’s turn to debate the legislation.
The Upper House has been described, correctly or not, as “the seat of common sense” and “the chamber for reconsideration.”
In contrast to “politics of numbers” practiced at the Lower House, the Upper House is said to be the arena for “politics of reason.”
The Upper House’s original mission is to ensure cautious and thoughtful debate at the Diet.
The Upper House cannot be dissolved for a snap election, and its members don’t lose their seats during their six-year terms, two years longer than those for Lower House lawmakers, who could lose their jobs before completing their terms.
This is because the Upper House is supposed to consider bills and issues from a longer and different perspective than the Lower House and adopt a multifaceted approach to dealing with them.
The system is based on the notion that conclusions and decisions reached through clashes over differing values and opinions are less likely to be misguided ones.
But this important principle of pluralism has been under crushing political pressure from the Abe administration.
The administration has imposed its view about the issue of Japan’s right to collective self-defense on the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which traditionally said Japan is not allowed to exercise that right, by replacing its chief.
A group of the prime minister’s personal advisers, who are all his friends and allies, issued a report endorsing Japan’s exercise of its right to collective self-defense. The LDP has also made a series of moves to intimidate news media.
Simply playing ball with the Abe administration’s “politics of numbers” would be tantamount to political suicide for the Upper House because one reason for the chamber’s existence is the importance of political pluralism. Playing ball would only reinforce the lingering argument for abolishing the Upper House.
A long list of topics related to the security legislation need to be discussed at the Upper House.
For one, the government has failed to offer any convincing reply to the arguments of most constitutional scholars that the legislation is unconstitutional.
The government has also failed to make clear in what situations Japan can engage in collective self-defense. Abe has only repeated that the decision will be based on a “comprehensive judgment.”
The administration’s attitude has only raised deep concerns among the public, leaving many people wondering whether Abe’s words mean the government should be given carte blanche to make such decisions.
A wave of protests against this legislation has spread to a wide range of people, including academics, students, legal experts and independent citizens, across the nation.
Driving this growing wave of protest is a sense of urgency about the crisis that is threatening to destroy this nation’s democracy and constitutionalism. This concern is shared widely by both proponents and opponents of the legislation.
The members of the Diet who are discussing this legislation are lawmakers chosen through an electoral system that was declared to be in “a state of unconstitutionality” by the Supreme Court and who have been dragging their feet on rectifying the situation.
Whom do they represent? If they want to answer this question, Upper House members should demonstrate their commitment to “politics of reason.”
They should remember that the people who hold the sovereign power will be watching their actions with a watchful and suspicious eye.