The campaign to protect Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (see below) is a long one. Indeed Article 9 has been under attack almost since it came into force in 1947.
While it clearly states that ‘land, sea and air forces… will never be maintained’ Japan in actual fact, has a very well-equipped military known as the ‘Self Defense Force (SDF).’ Japan has also signed a treaty with the United States, which allows the US to maintain a major military presence in Japan in the form of bases, concentrated in Okinawa. These bases have been the object of a long struggle, with the most recent phase intensifying around the new base under construction at Henoko.
But every attempt to weaken the Peace Constitution has met with popular protest in Japan. Indeed the ratification of the treaty with America brought vast numbers of people onto the streets, exactly 55 years ago.
In the latest protests, one can’t help but feel that we are joined by many of the ghosts of these massive protests of the1960s…of course not just ghosts, many of those actual protestors, now in their 70s are once again gathering at the Diet building, determined that the Peace Constitution be saved from the latest attack by the Abe government, which many fear could prove to be fatal.
Ever since winning the election in a landslide in December 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made ‘national security’ a priority. Along with their partners, the Komeito Party, the LDP coalition has two thirds of the seats in the Lower House. This is enough to push constitutional amendments through the Diet, but the requirement is that a public referendum must also be held and a majority of voters must also support the amendment. Abe realised that he would never be able to get the Japanese people to vote to dilute Article 9, so he is attempting to remilitarize Japan, not by actually changing the Constitution, but by making laws that ‘reinterpret’ it. For this he avoids having to go directly to the people in a referendum which he could never win, he can simply use his majority in the Diet to force through the bills which will basically sideline Article 9. Up until now the Self Defense Force has been just that…a force which defends Japan from direct outside attack but which is prohibited constitutionally from fighting wars outside Japan. This has of course been diluted by successive LDP governments, with the passing of bills allowing Japan to participate in Peace Keeping Operations, and various other logistic military operations, but the latest bills will allow Japanese troops to fight in wars overseas. As most of the constitutional scholars in Japan have pointed out, including the ones appointed by the Abe administration itself, this is a violation of the Constitution.
While the struggle to save Article 9 has been fought on many fronts over a long period, a group which has recently been attracting attention is the Student Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs).
As its name suggests, its main membership is young and it is injecting fresh ideas and energy to the traditional protest. Indeed Japan’s youth has long been admonished for its apparent lack of interest in anything political. The reason why young people have not joined protests in large numbers up until now could have partly been because the traditional protestors were so dominating and protests were so uncool, but SEALDs has succeeded in breaking through the barriers and attracting large numbers of young people to the protests in front of the Diet for successive Fridays, staging their demos after the regular anti-nuke protests that have taken place every Friday for nearly 4 years. SEALDs protests intensified as the war bills were being passed, taking place every day from July 15 through 17. The mood was one of outrage but determination, seriousness but with a hint of excitement. The slogan calling was totally refreshing…In English: ‘Tell me what democracy looks like’ ‘This is what democracy looks like’… In Spanish ‘No pasaran!’ (The fascists shall not pass– a reference to a famous speech made in the Spanish Civil War) all to the beat of drums and other percussion instruments with a decidedly rap rhythm. They are international and intelligent, technologically savvy and cool. SEALDs KANSAI has also been established and a successful demonstration was held in Kyoto. They are one of the new protest movements that became popular in Japan after 3.11 and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, utilising social media to mobilise people. They emerged (under a different name) in protest against the secrecy laws that came into effect last December, and while they declare that theirs is an ’emergency action’ and their sole aim is to protect ‘liberal democracy,’ not to set up any type of long term organisation, they are certainly going to be out in full force for the length of this particular battle, in any case.
The war bills have been forced through the lower house with the opposition parties walking out of the parliament in protest. The bills will now be deliberated in the upper house, where the ruling coalition does not have a majority and they will likely be rejected. However, there is a provision which allows bills to be passed by another vote in the lower house if the upper house still rejects them after 60 days. So the next 60 days will be crucial. What effect will such strong displays of opposition, not just in Tokyo, but in local communities all around Japan, including big cities like Nagoya, Fukuoka and Osaka, as well as smaller municipalities and groups gathering at train stations with placards in silent opposition, have on the Diet members who will be voting a second time? They must surely fear for their seats as public opinion surveys show the public becoming increasingly opposed to the bills. Loud and clear protests also keep up the pressure. There is no doubt that the majority of Japanese people want to continue down the same path they have been walking for the last 70 years, without fighting in a single war. Wherever you are, in Japan or in the world, now is the time to raise your voice if you support them.