(Mainichi: January 20, 2016 Evening edition – p. 2)
Interview with DPJ leader Katsuya Okada by special adviser Takakazu Matsuda; compiled by Akio Fujiwara
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has lost a series of national elections since it fell from power in late 2012. Will its political presence continue to weaken? Does it have a strategy to corner the Abe administration? Mainichi Shimbun special adviser Takakazu Matsuda conducted an in-depth interview with DPJ leader Katsuya Okada, who is seeking ways to unite the opposition forces ahead of the House of Councillors election in July.
Q: What is the significance of the Upper House election in July?
Okada: This will be a major turning point for Japan both in relation to pacifism and in terms of the possibility of a change of administration.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be keen on having the forces favoring constitutional revision win a two-thirds majority. Since the ruling parties already control a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, he will definitely proceed to revise the constitution with a two-thirds majority also in the Upper House. The Prime Minister did not mention the special state secrets protection law in the 2013 Upper House election; he did not touch on the right to collective self-defense in the general election in late 2014; but he has passed the security laws forcibly. He will probably also avoid including national emergency provisions, his excuse for constitutional revision, or Article 9 as a point of contention in the forthcoming Upper House election.
The national emergency provisions in the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) proposed constitutional amendments will impose serious restrictions on basic human rights. The essence of this is that the prime minister will deal with matters that ought to be governed by law with government ordinances. Furthermore, the notion that Japan will only become a “normal country” if Article 9 is amended in such a way that will allow unlimited exercise of the collective defense right will damage the very foundation of pacifism under the present constitution.
Q: How about your other point, the possibility of change of administration?
Okada: Unfortunately, the LDP is the only dominant political party at present. Our party has lost three national elections in a row. While it is presumptuous to talk about change of administration right now, we may obtain the right to stage another challenge based on the results of the Upper House election and put up a fight in the next general election.
Q: Do you have a consensus in the DPJ with regard to the Constitution?
Okada: Yes. The DPJ does not think that constitutional revision or a debate on this should not be allowed. We made proposals for constitutional amendment in 2005, and it is my longstanding position that revision is fine depending on what is going to be changed. However, we are talking about Prime Minister Abe. Considering [concerns about] pacifism and that he may have no qualms about restricting basic human rights, we must not agree thoughtlessly to discussing constitutional revision with him. That is the common understanding in the party.
Q: Objections to the Prime Minister’s political methods are very widespread among the people, including the conservatives.
Okada: This will also be an issue in the Upper House election. The Prime Minister did not convene the Diet last fall. Since his support rating has recovered slightly with time, he seems to think that he will be able to win the election. I don’t think the people are that lenient.
Q: How would you deal with North Korea’s nuclear test, China’s advances in the South China Sea, and other changes in Japan’s periphery? Shouldn’t the DPJ be taking a clear stand?
Okada: Discussing this in itself will amount to being carried away by the Prime Minister’s reasoning. North Korea’s nuclear threat should be dealt with by exercising the right to individual self-defense and through the Japan-U.S. alliance. This is not a question of Japan exercising its right to collective self-defense. They exaggerate the threats in Japan’s periphery and claim immediately that Japan should work with the U.S. That is wrong. The justification of the need for Japan to provide logistic support to the U.S. forces anywhere in the world should not be mixed up with the North Korea or South China Sea issues.
Q: Since the possibility of a change of administration is almost nil, Prime Minister Abe has the initiative in politics. Many people are not happy about that.
Okada: Parliamentary democracy is not only about two major parties competing to take over the administration. It is also about finding middle ground through debate. Prime Minister Abe does not have such an attitude at all. During the deliberations on the FY15 supplementary budget at the Lower House Budget Committee, he criticized the former DPJ administration and kept boasting that the Abe administration improved the economy and increased revenue income, or that relocation [of quake victims] to elevated ground was zero under the DPJ administration, while 95% has now been accomplished. He has no intention to listen to what the other party is saying. He is always defensive and says “no” all the time. It is so regrettable that this is the kind of prime minister we have; this brings tears to my eyes.
Q: There is now a stronger social tendency of intolerance and anti-liberalism. Certain junior LDP members also pointed this out, but they were suppressed right away.
Okada: The phenomenon of social intolerance and criticism of minorities is not unique to Japan. Donald Trump is a Republican candidate in the U.S. presidential election and political parties harsh on immigrants or minorities are gaining power in Europe. Mr. Abe also became prime minister riding on this trend. The situation in the Upper House election will probably change if we spread the word on what he really is.
Q: The source of the Prime Minister’s high support rating is the stock prices upswing and yen depreciation, but recently, stock prices are sagging and the yen is stronger. Abenomics is becoming shaky.
Okada: I have always said that the exchange rate is determined not only by monetary easing, but also by the international situation and that it is absurd to use stock prices as a criterion for assessing policy. Therefore, I will not say that Abenomics is no good because stock prices are falling and the yen is now stronger. In the first place, I don’t think Abenomics is really that important.
Q: Let me ask you bluntly: Will the DPJ split up?
Okada: It would still be understandable if we are talking about forming a new party. To suggest that the party will split up out of the blue is beyond comprehension and indicates lack of political sense. This is an affront to the DPJ’s supporters and will only damage trust in the party. I am neutral on the issue of forming a new party. I don’t want to talk about a new party.
Q: Are you making progress in your efforts to regain lost ground and go on offensive, including plans for a new party.
Okada: Even in the LDP, there are less people who are able to build a proper support group network. The Soka Sakkai is the substitute. Therefore, what Soka Gakkai members think of Abe is one of the keys in the election. I believe that the DPJ needs to become a party that is supported by the conservative liberals, who form the core of LDP supporters. The important thing is to explain to the people that Japan is at the crossroads in two ways, as I mentioned earlier, and win their understanding. If that can be achieved, there will be changes in voter behavior.
Q: It doesn’t seem that you have a fair chance of winning the Upper House election.
Okada: We are working with the Japan Innovation Party as partners in a joint floor group in the Lower House. We are still not sure if the Initiatives from Osaka (Osaka Ishin no Kai) is a ruling or opposition party. Still, parties referred to as the third force are moving closer together. I think we should be able to fight in the election under a LDP-versus-the opposition or a LDP-versus-DPJ paradigm. We have been able to field promising candidates in many electoral districts.
Q: We hope you will revive rigorous politics and demonstrate the DPJ’s presence.
Okada: That is my job. That is why I became the party leader.