By Tsugumasa Uchihata
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will dissolve the House of Representatives at the beginning of the extraordinary Diet session convening on Sept. 28. Since mid-September, all newspapers have been actively debating whether it is appropriate to dissolve the Diet for a general election that will come with the risk of creating a political vacuum amid heightening tensions in the North Korea situation.
Sankei Shimbun came out clearly in support of Abe’s decision. Calling North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile provocations “the most serious crisis in the postwar period,” it asserted that “it is of great significance to seek the people’s verdict on which party and which leader should be entrusted with Japan’s destiny and the people’s lives and safety while responding to this imminent threat.”
The Abe administration, a coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, enacted new security laws that were also welcomed by Japan’s ally, the United States. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party (DP) is calling for revoking these laws on the grounds that they are unconstitutional. The Japanese Communist Party is also calling for abolishing the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Sankei wrote: “We do not think these constitute any concrete solution.”
Sankei further asked that constitutional revision, particularly Abe’s proposal to retain Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 9 but add a provision on the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), be made a campaign issue. It argued, “It can also be said that North Korea’s reckless behavior is proof of the failure of Japan’s ‘postwar pacifism,’ which has left its security in the hands of others. A revision to write the SDF and the concept of national defense into the Constitution is the first step in reinstituting the mindset of protecting the people to the end.”
Yomiuri Shimbun stated: “It is understandable that the Prime Minister is using his power to dissolve the Lower House to secure greater momentum for the implementation of key policies through a victory in the Lower House election.” It observed, “This election will be held amid the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arms and missiles. It is necessary to engage in a thoroughgoing debate on how to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance to enhance deterrence and how to build an international encirclement that involves China and Russia.”
On the other hand, Asahi Shimbun asked: “What are the people being asked to pass judgement on in this general election?” It called the upcoming election “an election by Prime Minister Abe and for Prime Minister Abe with no legitimate rationale.” It also questioned the prime minister’s power to dissolve the Lower House and dismiss all its members, strongly criticizing Abe’s decision.
Mainichi Shimbun also voiced criticism that “politics with absolutely no respect for the sovereignty of the people is going unchallenged.”
These two papers and Tokyo Shimbun indicated that an attempt to cover up the Kake Gakuen and Moritomo Gakuen scandals was one of the political motives behind the dissolution. These two issues were supposed to be taken up at the start of the extraordinary Diet session. Asahi pointed out that “dissolving the Lower House at the beginning of the session will enable the Prime Minister to evade grilling by the opposition for the time being.”
Mainichi lamented, “He must have been desperate to cover up these scandals. If he thinks that these issues will be forgotten, he must be underestimating the Japanese people.”
These three papers also mentioned disarray in the opposition parties as another factor behind Abe’s decision. The DP after Seiji Maehara assumed the presidency is unable to stop the exodus of defectors, while prospects for Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s new party remain uncertain.
Mainichi claimed, “The Prime Minister certainly reckons that holding the election now will prevent [the ruling bloc] from losing too many seats,” while Tokyo Shimbun voiced the following criticism: “Although this is indeed the reality of politics, someone who takes advantage of the upheaval in the opposition parties to dissolve the Lower House cannot possibly avoid being criticized for abusing the power to dissolve the Lower House” (Slightly abridged)