WHY ARE JUNIOR LDP LAWMAKERS SUPPORTING KONO?
The presidential election of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) slated for September 29 will be a close race among three candidates—Taro Kono (58), incumbent minister in charge of administrative reform and coronavirus vaccinations; Fumio Kishida (64), former foreign minister and chairman of the party’s Policy Research Council; and Ms Sanae Takaichi (60), former minister of internal affairs and communications. Kono has received by far the top approval rating in all of the polls conducted so far. Obviously influenced by the results, many junior LDP lawmakers serving their third term or less are eagerly throwing their support behind Kono. My question to them: How can they justify their support for Kono?
Most of these junior lawmakers managed to secure their seats in the Diet thanks to the strong public support that former prime minister Shinzo Abe enjoyed during his nine years in office. Abe, who resigned last September due to illness, was victorious in all of the six national elections he called starting in 2012. In the last lower house election in 2017, the LDP won a decisive 284 seats and coalition junior partner Komeito Party 29 for a combined total of 313 seats in the 465-seat lower house. As a result, junior lawmakers now number 126, accounting for more than 40 percent of LDP lawmakers.
Because the junior members are not confident in their chances, they are desperately trying to attach themselves to the coattails of a popular leader. The incumbent prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, is unpopular and has decided to not run for reelection. The junior lawmakers fear they will lose their seats unless a charismatic party leader covers what they lack.
An unseated lawmaker will turn into an ordinary man on the street. No longer will he be called “sensei” and be able to hire secretaries at the public expense, or get a free ride on “bullet trains” and airplanes. Other privileges will be lost, too. For instance, it will no longer be possible to get on or off the plane via the special aisle barring ordinary citizens, or have bureaucrats prepare documents and briefings to enable him to make cogent arguments in Diet Committees.
I firmly believe that these privileges should be abundantly offered lawmakers who are earnestly grappling with issues pertaining to our national interests, tirelessly exploring how Japan should function as a responsible leader of the democratic bloc. If there are lawmakers in this nation ridden with a mountain of tough problems who are working conscientiously to enact laws to overcome even a few of the obstacles, I fully favor allowing them far more annual expenses than they are getting now, including research funds. After all, the true worth of a lawmaker should be determined by his way of thinking and the shape of Japan he envisions for the future. Put simply, it is a lawmaker’s beliefs and policies that matters.
Desperate to Keep Seat in Diet
In this connection, I find it totally impossible to comprehend what prompts these junior lawmakers—who may not have been elected, or reelected, without Abe’s popularity backing them—to rush to rally behind Kono. In a nutshell, Abe’s values were solidly based on gallant and gentle conservatism and persuasive. Specifically, he made the following assertions:
•The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) should be reinforced in order to enhance national security and protect the people. The constitution should be revised to stipulate the legitimacy of the JSDF’s role.
•Defining North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens as acts of terrorism, Japan should work hard to have that reflected in United Nation’s resolutions. Based on the firm belief that Japan can hardly call itself a sovereign nation without being able to bring home its abducted citizens from North Korea, resolving the abduction issue must be my primary mission as prime minister;
•The Imperial Family constitutes the core of Japan’s national character. Our long history is based on the mutual trust between the Imperial Family and the Japanese people, who have earnestly cherished the Imperial Family with a deep sense of respect over the centuries. In order to preserve the traditions of the Imperial Family, the male line of succession must be continued.
•A strong national economy must be maintained in order to support an ever improving standard of living for our people. Because our economy and industry rely on a stable supply of energy, the best combination of different forms of energy—thermal, atomic, and renewable––should be targeted.
Here I must point out that in all of these major policies Kono’s ideas are entirely different from Abe’s. Although Kono has tactfully adjusted his remarks the past few days, his long-standing convictions are diametrically opposite to Abe’s.
I have no intention whatsoever of claiming that Kono should have the same ideas and visions as Abe. Kono is free to stick to his own convictions. But I wish to ask those junior lawmakers who owe Abe their seats in the Diet: what is your raison d’etre for being a politician if you can so hurriedly rally behind Kono, who has values diametrically different from Abe’s? Is it simply because you are desperate to keep your seat in the Diet? To my mind, this behavior is unprincipled.
Before comparing their values, let me first point out that Kono’s posture toward national defense is simply immature and irresponsible. The Aegis issue that cropped up while Kono was defense minister under Abe 2020-21 amply proves my point. The government had planned the construction of two Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense sites against possible missile attacks from North Korea or China. Only recently, on September 13, Pyongyang announced it just succeeded in test-firing a long-range cruise missile, claiming it traveled along oval and eight-figure flight orbits and hit targets 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away. This would put the whole of Japan in range.
But Kono cancelled the Aegis project out of the blue, citing concerns that the booster on the interceptor missile (Standard Missile-3 Block IIA) couldn’t be guaranteed to land on military property instead of nearby civilian communities when separated from the missile. As defense minister, he could have taken plausible countermeasures, such as buying up the land around the base to expand the JSDF maneuvering grounds. Instead, he simply abandoned the entire project without bothering to try such countermeasures, which could have included negotiating with the communities around the base.
Tens of thousands of lives would be lost should North Korea or China launch a nuclear attack on Japan without a sufficient missile defense mechanism. But Kono made a dogmatic decision to put the danger of a possible nuclear attack on equal footing with the possibility of a booster shell dropping on private land. In implementing a major change in any operation, appropriate preparations and substitute plans are mandatory, but there is no trace of Kono ever having done that in this case. Despite this, will the junior lawmakers still back Kono, who made this irresponsible decision as defense minister?
Kono’s Deceptive Statements
Let’s next discuss energy, which is the foundation of our economy. It is a well-known fact that Kono advocates a “zero nuclear” Japan. After the meltdown occurred in 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant, he was instrumental in founding a 100-member bipartisan parliamentarians’ league named “Zero Nuclear, Renewable Energy 100,” becoming its co-representative alongside Shoichi Kondo of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP). Although the league’s official blog carries a notice that Kono is currently “in absentia,” its roster reveals that the league is led by the CDP and supported primarily by members of the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.
Today, Kono shies away from openly acknowledging his past liaison with leftwing forces concerning this matter. And, perhaps to win the support of the LDP’s conservative forces, he has chosen to not discuss his cherished opinion of a “zero nuclear” Japan, asserting instead as follows during a news conference on September 10 in which he announced his decision to run for president of the LDP:
“Resuming operations of nuclear power plants would be realistic—provided that they are confirmed to be safe.”
Kono also said that Japan should stop its nuclear fuel recycle scheme as soon as possible, which would mean the end of nuclear reprocessing operations at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, Japan’s first and only such commercial plant in Aomori Prefecture.
That would create a huge problem for an energy-short Japan, as nuclear power plants would have nowhere else to turn to in sending spent nuclear fuel. This in turn would likely prompt the communities now hosting nuclear power plants to fiercely oppose a resumption of nuclear power generation. Consequently, a national consensus would prevail against restarting the nation’s nuclear power plants dormant following the 2011 catastrophe. Kono’s remarks are in effect a call for an outright abolition of nuclear power generation put differently.
Although he now says he is in favor of resuming nuclear power generation, it is obvious that Kono is craftily contriving to materialize a “zero nuclear” Japan. To call a spade a spade, resorting to such deceptive statements is “lying.” It is incumbent on him to explain precisely what his stance is as regards the role of nuclear power generation in the government’s comprehensive energy policy.
Japan has a goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% from 2013 levels by 2030. If the government further restricts the use of thermal power in addition to eliminating nuclear power in order to meet this goal, it will become impossible to provide sufficient electricity to our homes, factories, and infrastructure. With Kono at the helm, Japan’s economy would be bound to decline. I earnestly urge junior LDP lawmakers to explain specifically why they would support a politician like Kono, who has irresponsibly misled the nation with his deceptive statements.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 967 in the September 16, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)