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HOME  > Past issues  > 2013 April 24 - May 7  > 100 days of Abe Cabinet
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2013 April 24 - May 7 TOP3 [POLITICS]

100 days of Abe Cabinet

April 18, 2013
More than 100 days have passed since the second Abe government was inaugurated. Encouraged by a high support rating of 70%, the Abe Cabinet is moving forward with relaxing procedural rules for constitutional revision. Meanwhile, in elections in Aomori and in Koriyama, voters decided not to elect Liberal Democratic and Komei party-backed candidates as their city mayors. Some of the traditional LDP support bases, such as the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA), decided to hold back on their support for LDP candidates in the coming summer’s Upper House election over the question of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Some media personalities commented on TV programs that the Abe government is facing a turning point. Akahata on April 18 summed up what Abe’s rule these past 100 days were all about.

Article 96 of the Constitution

Prime Minster Abe Shinzo in an interview with Yomiuri Shimbun dated April 16 expressed the intention that he will put up Article 96 revision as a key LDP campaign pledge in the House of Councilors election. He wants the requirement set under the article to be changed from a two-thirds majority consensus in both chambers to just one half in the Diet in order to propose constitutional revision. LDP spokesperson Ishiba Shigeru on a TV program broadcast on April 13 said that an amendment to Article 96 will directly be linked to a change in Article 9 and that the public should keep that in mind.

The Abe Cabinet initially intended to tone down its leader’s nationalistic leaning like his rightwing interpretation of history until after the Upper House election. At this point, however, it is allowing his views to be aired in public.

The government now openly questions constitutionalism which puts restrictions on state power based on the principle of popular sovereignty. Even an advocate of constitutional revision, Kobayashi Setsu, who is professor at Keio University, criticized the way Abe has devised the bid to change the Constitution. Kobayashi in the January 25 edition of Japan Business Press said that it is inappropriate for the Abe cabinet to try to ease the procedural rules just because it has no confidence to persuade the public and win their approval for constitutional amendments using the established rules. If this is allowed, it will be equivalent to proclaiming that Japan does not need the Constitution, he added.

Even in the United States, a two-thirds support in the Senate and the House of Representatives and a support from three-fourths of state legislatures are necessary to modify the Constitution.

US military bases in Okinawa

The Japanese and U.S. governments on April 5 jointly announced a plan regarding U.S. facilities located south of the U.S. Kadena air base in Okinawa. Prime Minister Abe confidently said that the plan will visibly reduce Okinawa’s base burdens, but it in effect will strengthen the functions of U.S. military bases.

The plan postpones the handover of the U.S. Futenma base, which is said to be the most dangerous in the world for residents near the base, to fiscal 2022 or later on the condition that it will be relocated to another location inside Okinawa. The two sides also agreed to a roadmap for constructing a new U.S. base within fiscal 2022 in the Henoko district in Nago City. The reversion of other U.S. facilities will be possible only if alternative sites are found in Okinawa.

The Okinawa local paper, Ryukyu Shimpo, in the April 6 editorial criticized such an agreement as manipulating public perceptions. Another local paper, the Okinawa Times, in an editorial dated April 7 defined the plan as a house of cards ready to tumble. Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu on April 12 also said, “It will be difficult to accept the plan as it has been decided without local consent.”

The integrated planning regarding U.S. bases south of the U.S. Kadena base puts forth a transfer of 9,000 marines to Guam or to Hawaii, but the U.S. Department of Defense only allotted 85.67 million dollars (about 8.5 billion yen) to transfer them to Guam in the next fiscal year starting in October. This amount falls far short of the 24 billion dollars (about 2.4 trillion yen) which is said to be necessary for implementation of the overall plan. The return of U.S. facilities by 2022 as boasted by Abe does not sound feasible at all.

Monetary easing could lead to bubble

In accordance with the Abe Cabinet’s policy, the Bank of Japan launched “a new dimension of monetary easing in terms of quality and quantity.” Since then, stock market prices have increased and long term interest rates for government bonds have fluctuated wildly.

The problem with this policy is that instead of the money being used to increase workers’ wages and capital investment, it could turn into speculative money and create chaos in the stock, real estate, crude oil, and grain markets.

The role of the Bank of Japan is supposedly to work to prevent such a bubble economy. It, however, is taking the lead in inflating the bubble.

The Abe Cabinet not only lacks any sense of concern regarding the economic bubble but also tries to push ahead with measures to further weaken the real economy. It plans to impose the consumption tax hike as well as cut social security programs in place to support the general public.

At the Abe Cabinet’s Council for Industrial Competitiveness and the Council for Regulatory Reform, representatives of business circles are discussing how to further liberalize Japan’s labor market.

No measures to prevent radiation contamination

Trying to reactivate idled nuclear power plants and construct new reactors, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has refused to accept the Fukushima Prefectural Assembly’s unanimous call for retracting the government’s declaration that the nuclear accident has been brought under control.

Serious problems continue to exist at the crippled plant. Due to the power outage near a temporary switchboard at the plant, the cooling system of the storage pools for spent nuclear fuel at the plant’s Nos. 1, 3, and 4 reactors was suspended up to 29 hours.

In addition, radiation-contaminated water has escaped from underground storage pools. It was discovered by Akahata that water leakages had occurred at waste disposal sites where the same type of plastic sheets lining the Fukushima plant’s storage pools had been installed. About 400 tons of groundwater flow into the plant everyday.

Industry Minister Motegi Toshimitsu promised to have TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima plant, construct more tanks at the site to transport all contaminated water into them by the end of May. TEPCO, however, has explained that the transfer will not be completed until early June.

TEPCO claimed that underground storage pools can be used safely for more than 10 years. This was revealed by Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo at a press conference on April 11. He urged that the government stop depending on TEPCO to bring the crippled plant under control and take the responsibility to prevent further radiation contamination.

Make large concessions with US in TPP

The Japanese and U.S. governments on April 12 agreed in their prior consultation for Japan’s entry into negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) multinational trade pact. It became clear that the “bargaining capability” which Prime Minister Abe claimed would safeguard Japanese interests was only an illusion.

In the consultation, Japan agreed to maintain tariffs on Japanese cars exported to the U.S. for the longest possible period of time. It also promised to not permit Japan Post Insurance to introduce a new insurance product.

Meanwhile, it failed to obtain a promise from the U.S. to treat farm products, such as rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products, and sweetening resources, as exceptions in tariff removals. The LDP has regarded these products as national interests which should be protected.

The Abe Cabinet also agreed to have bilateral negotiations on Japan’s regulations considered by the U.S. as non-tariff barriers, including safety standards for food additives.
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