Abe’s Coup in Seven Simple Steps
SNA (Tokyo) — In case anyone is wondering how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pulled off his coup against the postwar Japanese Constitution in just two-and-a-half years in power—and thus fulfilling his lifelong dream of restoring Japan as a nation with pride—here’s the process in seven simple steps:
Step One: Maintain an Unconstitutional Electoral System
Shinzo Abe didn’t create the system whereby mostly conservative voters in rural districts are in some cases given up to five times more weight in electing representatives than more progressive urban voters, but, needless to say, an aggressive reform to bring the electoral system back into line with the dictates of democratic principles was never part of his agenda. And if multiple courts around the nation declare the elections “in a state of unconstitutionality” or just plain “unconstitutional”? Well… you can just drag your feet.
Step Two: Poison the Constitutional Watchdog
For most of Japan’s postwar history, the key institution protecting the Constitution was the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. Every law submitted to the Diet by the government was first examined by this highly-professional organization to determine if it was fully in accord with the national charter. Many times in the past Japanese governments were frustrated when the CLB told them “no.” Abe and his brand of revisionist conservatives had the knives out for the CLB going back for decades. Once Abe was in power, the method of poisoning the constitutional watchdog was all too simple—you just refuse to appoint anyone to head the organization unless they are willing to be fully subservient to the dictates of their political master. Abe accomplished this step in the late summer of 2013.
Step Three: Hold a Snap Election for Unknown Reasons
The December 2014 snap election was described by some as “a general election about nothing.” It was unclear why Prime Minister Abe needed to call an early election. There was no crisis nor an overarching theme. Many analysts suspected that Abe just wanted to cash in on the popularity of Abenomics while the nation was still buzzing from the economic high provided to it by massive amounts of government spending; and before the side effects of his big-spending approach were fully manifest. Of course, the complete ineptitude of the opposition parties formed another key incentive for an early election, thus insuring that voter turnout would be at a historic low and most of the individual district races entirely uncompetitive.
Step Four: Make Pledges to the American Government
Shinzo Abe is almost as anti-American as he is anti-Chinese, but the US government is populated by useful fools who can easily be convinced that a more militarily proactive Japan will never be anything more than a sidekick for American adventurism. Indeed, revisionists like Abe have, for the time being, made common cause with Japan’s more sincere admirers of Washington in order to defeat the pacifist national culture that still restrains both groups. By going to President Obama and the US Congress in late April and by promising them that he would pass his security legislation, Abe preempted any verdict that might be delivered by the Japanese people themselves. In other words, he put Japan’s “international credibility” on the line. For many inside the Japanese government, the notion that the bills must be passed became entirely persuasive—after all, it had been promised to the nation’s key ally, the Americans.
Step Five: Cow the Critical Media
If the CLB and the teachers’ unions are among the groups that Japan’s rightists love to hate, the Asahi Shinbun and the “liberal media” are surely near the top of that list as well. To have such widely-read publications spreading, on a daily basis, the culture of pacifism and criticism of policy is simply intolerable (even if it is now only in a timid, watered-down form compared to the early postwar period). Through a combination of making personal contacts with key media executives and with dark hints about repercussions for speaking out too loudly, the Abe government sent clear signals to the media that they had better watch their steps. As for NHK, the national broadcaster, that was far easier: he just employed the same strategy as he did in the case of the CLB and appointed a crony to head the organization. Poof! Like magic!
Step Six: Discredit the Constitutional Experts
Prime Minister Abe and the LDP didn’t execute this step very well, but their basic intention was clear. Even if almost every scholar of the Constitution in the nation finds your arguments unpersuasive and your legislation to be in clear violation of Article Nine, there are always a few rightwing ideological cranks in the margins that you can lift up into the public eye to buttress your case. That way, you might plausibly argue that “expert opinion is mixed” rather than admit the reality that expert opinion is almost entirely against you. And, when you blow it by accidentally choosing someone to testify in the Diet who expresses the near-consensus of constitutional scholars instead of the expected party line, then you can fall back by pointing out that they are just professors, after all, who know nothing about the real world and who do not carry the heavy burden of public responsibility for national security that politicians do.
Step Seven: Ignore Public Opinion
There is no doubt that Prime Minister Abe very much wanted the Japanese public on his side by the time he passed his “Legislation for Peace and Security,” but he and his party made enough missteps along the way that, in fact, the majority of the public became quite alarmed at what their government was doing. NHK Chair Katsuto Momii had been too vocal about his atrocious personal opinions. Abe allies inside and outside the Diet couldn’t refrain from gloating about their plans or engaging in public threats. Sometimes the wrong people were selected for the roles they were supposed to play. And certain media outlets resisted the efforts that had been made to intimidate them. The net result was that the Japanese public received too clear an idea about what was really going on. Not everything went according to plan.
So what happens when every poll shows roughly 2-to-1 opposition to your legislation? You dismiss it, of course.
Why? Because no responsible leader can jeopardize the safety of the nation for the sake of mere popularity. Responsible government cannot be led by daily public opinion polls. History will prove you right. And you are, after all, the legitimate, democratically-elected leader of the nation.
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