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The Asahi Shimbun/2018/10/11 16:10

Critical test for Komeito lies in ability to expand its coalition role

Komeito, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s junior coalition partner, held its first party convention in two years on Sept. 30 and re-elected Natsuo Yamaguchi as its leader.
Yamaguchi has headed the party since 2009.
However, Yoshihisa Inoue, the party's long-serving secretary-general, was replaced by Tetsuo Saito.
Yamaguchi's pledge of continued support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet as the LDP’s principal political ally leaves Komeito open to accusations of simply being a political force that only helps the powerful ruling party pursue its agenda.
In recent years, Komeito’s reputation as a party committed to pacifism has waned sharply as it has failed to serve as a bulwark against Abe’s arrogant politics driven by force of numbers in the Diet.
Komeito will be doomed to becoming increasingly divorced from the thoughts and feelings of grassroots voters unless it learns from its mistakes and becomes more vocal in expressing its own policy views within the coalition.
The LDP and Komeito have remained partners through nearly two decades since 1999, including a period of being out of power.
The two parties are inseparably bound in a mutually dependent relationship cemented through daily joint initiatives, such as developing policies, drafting budgets and cooperating in national and local elections.
This is why Komeito has made significant concessions to the LDP over divisive policy issues, thereby allowing the Abe administration to continue its high-handed policy agenda approach.
Komeito marched in tandem with the LDP in ramming a number of controversial bills through the Diet, including new national security legislation and a bill to legalize and promote casinos, despite much skepticism about these pieces of legislation within the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, Komeito’s main constituency.
There have been no signs that Komeito has urged Abe or the LDP to make serious efforts to uncover the truth about grave political scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution, school operators with direct or indirect links to Abe.
As a member of the ruling camp, Komeito has been expected to check the actions of the administration to ensure its policies reflect public opinion. But the party has been unable, or unwilling, to perform this role.
In the important election to choose a new governor of Okinawa Prefecture held at the end of September, the candidate supported by the LDP and Komeito was defeated, by a large margin, by Denny Tamaki, who ran on a promise to block the government’s plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the crowded Okinawan city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, another city in the prefecture.
Komeito’s Okinawa prefectural chapter has been opposed to the plan to build a new military base in Henoko. Exit polls showed many Komeito supporters in the prefecture voted for Tamaki. The party leadership should take the electoral defeat very seriously.
The critical test for Komeito’s political future will be Abe’s initiative to amend the Constitution. If it again follows Abe’s lead on this initiative, Komeito’s political identity and relevance as a party upholding the basic values of postwar Japan will be called into question.
The LDP plans to present a four-point proposal to amend the Constitution, including an additional provision in Article 9 to codify the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces, to the Commissions on the Constitution of both houses of the Diet to start debate with other parties on the amendments during the extraordinary Diet session to be convened by the end of the month.
At a time when Japan is facing a raft of important policy challenges that should be given higher priority, however, any rash move to push forward Diet deliberations on constitutional amendments, which require broad public debate, is totally unacceptable.
Komeito made the right decision when it refused the LDP’s request for advance talks to coordinate their positions on the issue before the draft amendments are presented to the commissions.
We hope Komeito will act as a brake on Abe’s headlong rush into initiating the process of constitutional amendments.
In the Lower House election last year, Komeito won less than 7 million of the votes for proportional representation seats. Together with the results of the single-seat constituencies, the election reduced the party’s Lower House seats by five.
The election outcome left no doubt that Komeito cannot hope to carve out a viable political future for itself if it simply keeps following Abe’s lead in the months leading up to unified local elections and the Upper House poll next year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 11




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