As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would have it, he is not obliged to respond to criticism of the Liberal Democratic Party’s 2012 draft constitution during Diet budget committee deliberations, a position that is not sitting well with the opposition.
The prime minister avoided commenting on the matter all through the Lower House meetings, which kicked off last week, and appears to be taking the same tack at the outset of the Upper House discussions that began Wednesday, where he faced off against newly elected Democratic Party opposition leader Renho.
“I’m simply dumbfounded that Prime Minister Abe, despite being head of the administration, seems to think he can decide what he should or shouldn’t talk about in the legislative body” that is the Diet, Renho told reporters after the budget committee session.
The Upper House budget committee opened a day after the supplementary budget worth ¥4.52 trillion cleared the Lower House on Tuesday.
And on Wednesday, as he stood opposite the DP leader in an Upper House budget committee, Abe — to her great consternation — again sidestepped the matter, claiming such discussions should be left to a separate Diet committee known as the Commission on the Constitution.
“I’m here as head of the administration, or prime minister. So I’m not in a position to talk about the LDP draft,” Abe said. “My duty here boils down to answering questions regarding a supplementary budget plan submitted by the government or bills pertaining to it.”
Renho called his continued avoidance cowardly, charging that it amounts to a “double standard” that he suddenly touts the importance of the constitutional committee after months of inaction.
Undeterred, Renho ratcheted up her condemnation of the draft — in particular its addition of a clause stipulating “family members must support each other.”
She said such a proclamation flies in the face of individual freedom and the changing norms of the modern family.
“The importance of family bonds should be an ethical concept. It’s not something that should be imposed on the public as an obligation,” Renho said, expressing concern that such a clause could lead to cutbacks in social security and welfare programs under the pretext that it is families, not the state, who should take care of those in need.
The LDP, for its part, explains on its website that the new clause is intended to strengthen the nation’s family bonds, which it claims have grown rather fragile over the years.
Among the only comments Abe made on the LDP draft constitution, which opponents say degrades individual rights and even evokes Japan’s wartime militarism, was that he wouldn’t expect the draft to be put to a national referendum in its current form, which can be taken as a signal that his party is willing to make concessions during future deliberations on the matter.
Also during the Wednesday session, newly appointed Defense Minister Tomomi Inada found herself the target of relentless questioning from opposition lawmakers, a theme carried over from last week.
Renho grilled the defense minister over a 2011 remark made in a conservative magazine to the effect that the entirety of Japan’s annual child-rearing budgets — to the tune of ¥5 trillion — should be channeled to military spending instead to make Japan more self-reliant on national security matters.
“I made such a remark because I felt seriously dismayed that with the Democratic Party of Japan in power back then, our defense situation was largely in disarray,” Inada said, referring to former DPJ Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s failure to deliver on his promise to move the U.S. Futenma air base outside of Okinawa Prefecture and the deteriorating relations with China over a territorial dispute.
Inada explained she now appreciates the importance of child-rearing budgets, while also backtracking from another claim she made in the same magazine that Japan should consider nuclear weapons as part of its national strategy.
That was far different from the position she took on Wednesday, when she said, “I would like to make an all-out effort to help realize a nuclear-free world and uphold Japan’s three Non-Nuclear Principles,” which declares that Japan will not possess, produce or introduce nuclear weapons.
Renho pounced on the flip-flop, sarcastically saying, “Wow, how boldly you’ve just apostatized. I’m amazed.”