In a further attempt to press New Komeito, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear on June 6 he wants Cabinet approval for a constitutional reinterpretation concerning collective self-defense before the current Diet session ends.
The pacifist-leaning junior coalition partner has so far shown no signs of accelerating the process that would drastically change Japan’s postwar security policy. Although ruling coalition discussions have started, New Komeito has remained reluctant to go along with Abe’s plan to reinterpret the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
Speaking to reporters in Rome, Abe said he has no intention to extend the current Diet session, which closes on June 22. He also expressed confidence that New Komeito will back the Cabinet’s approval of the constitutional reinterpretation at an early stage.
“I believe New Komeito officials are well aware that we need to speed up the discussions,” Abe said. “As the ruling parties, we must make a decision when such a decision is necessary.”
Abe has instructed senior officials of his Liberal Democratic Party to promptly reach agreement with New Komeito, according to LDP sources.
A senior LDP official said June 6 that Abe instructed party Vice President Masahiko Komura and Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba to prepare for Cabinet approval before the end of the current Diet session. On the same day during talks between the coalition partners, Komura asked government officials to prepare a draft of the constitutional reinterpretation for eventual Cabinet approval.
The coordinated moves by Abe and his party represent a change in tack toward the coalition partner.
Abe said on May 15 that he had no intention to set a deadline for the Cabinet approval. His insistence that approval is needed before the end of the Diet session indicates he has grown impatient with New Komeito’s foot-dragging on the issue.
Komura’s reference to the draft document took New Komeito by surprise during the June 6 meeting.
After the talks, New Komeito vice leader Kazuo Kitagawa said that even if the government drafts a constitutional reinterpretation, it does not necessarily mean his party will go along with the Cabinet approval plan.
“We will not allow the Cabinet to approve it unless the ruling parties reach agreement on the issue,” Kitagawa said.
Also during the coalition talks, officials of the Abe administration and the LDP started discussions on eight specific scenarios in which Japan can exercise its right to collective self-defense, including protecting U.S. ships and removing naval mines in the Persian Gulf.
They told New Komeito officials that the Self-Defense Forces must be dispatched under these scenarios because the right to individual self-defense and police authorities cannot handle these cases.
New Komeito officials countered by saying the parties should instead discuss legislative changes to allow for such SDF actions under the current interpretation of the Constitution.
Abe has proposed that Japan be allowed to exercise the right to collective self-defense in “limited cases.” Kitagawa asked that the LDP and the government show clear criteria for such cases.
With Abe and the LDP showing no signs of backing down on the issue, some New Komeito officials have started suggesting that the party might have no choice but to break up the coalition.
(This article was written by Katsuhisa Kuramae in Tokyo and Shinya Sugizaki in Rome.)
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