2014-05: Major Security Shift - Soka Gakkai

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Soka Gakkai a force to be reckoned with in Abe's plan to reinterpret Constitution

May 17, 2014.  THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Soka Gakkai, the hugely influential backer of the ruling party's junior coalition partner, could make things difficult for the Abe administration in its moves to reinterpret the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense.

The lay Buddhist organization provided its view on the issue in a written response to The Asahi Shimbun.

It rarely publicly airs its views on individual political issues because it has put importance on the separation of politics and religion. Behind the scenes, however, it has regularly exchanged views or adjusted policies with New Komeito, the party in coalition with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Soka Gakkai said May 16 the government should try to realize its goal through an amendment to the Constitution, which has to pass through the Diet and a national referendum, rather than reinterpreting the supreme law of the land through a Cabinet decision.

Its stance could stall discussions between the LDP and New Komeito on the issue that are due to start on May 20.

“In the case that the government exercises the right to collective self-defense, even if it is in a limited manner, the procedures for the exercise should be an amendment to the Constitution, not a decision only by ministers of the Cabinet, given the importance of the issue,” the organization stated.

As for the right to collective self-defense, Soka Gakkai stands in opposition to Abe, who aims to allow for the exercise of the right by changing the interpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

“We support the (successive) governments' view on Article 9 of the Constitution that has been established over time, which is ‘Japan possesses the right but cannot exercise it,’” the organization said in the reply.

Following discussions between the LDP and New Komeito, Abe is determined to change the interpretation of the Constitution through a Cabinet decision before an extraordinary Diet session starts in autumn.

With regard to that decision, Soka Gakkai said, “We hope that, through careful discussions among people, the government will make a wise conclusion that can endure the criticism of future generations.”

Meanwhile, speaking at a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on May 16, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said: “New Komeito is not saying that a minimum level of defense is unacceptable if it includes the word 'collective.' There is enough room for discussions.”

Komura, who will preside over the LDP-New Komeito discussions, also referred to the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, expected to be reviewed as early as the end of this year.

“We have a desire that the government can make (the Cabinet decision for the reinterpretation of the Constitution) in time for starting work on the review,” he said, suggesting that the LDP wants to reach an agreement with New Komeito by the end of summer.


In its reply to The Asahi Shimbun, Soka Gakkai expressed strong reservations over the exercise of the right to collective self-defense. In particular, it is opposed to Abe’s method of allowing for the exercise of the right to collective self-defense by changing the interpretation of the Constitution.

This prompted a senior official of Soka Gakkai to comment, “We never allow the government to form a conclusion in a rush.”

Soka Gakkai claims 8.27 million member households in Japan.

Given the philosophy of its main backer, New Komeito, which calls itself the “party of peace,” cannot help being cautious on the issue of allowing for exercising the right to collective self-defense.

In a party meeting held in the Diet on May 16, New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi only said: “It is important to have wide-ranging discussions. The government will not make a decision by itself without discussions with us.”

Soka Gakkai is apparently trying to urge New Komeito not to be overwhelmed by the LDP in the two parties’ discussions.

New Komeito suffered a crushing defeat in the 2009 Lower House election. Yamaguchi, who became the new party leader in the crisis at the time, referred to the 10-year alliance between the LDP and New Komeito: “Our party has not been able to sufficiently perform our role as the party of welfare and the party that sides with the people in the weak positions.”

Recalling those days, an executive of a Soka Gakkai branch in western Japan, said, “It is very dangerous to go with the LDP on any issues. We have yet to forget our mistakes.”

New Komeito would find it difficult to leave the coalition government because it is now in a position to push its welfare and other policies aimed at improving the people’s daily lives.

Almost all of the executives of Soka Gakkai also agree that New Komeito should not leave the coalition government.

However, they face a potential backlash from Soka Gakkai members who are opposed to Abe changing the government's traditional interpretation of the Constitution.

Despite discussions within Soka Gakkai and between New Komeito and the LDP, it seems very unlikely that Abe will choose to amend the Constitution to push the issue. He maintains that the issue will be settled through a Cabinet decision before the start of the extraordinary Diet session that is scheduled to be held in autumn.

Inevitably, the LDP and New Komeito will lock horns in the discussions.

A Soka Gakkai executive, referring to the views in the written reply to The Asahi Shimbun, said: “This is our stance. The LDP and New Komeito have to wind up their discussions within the limits (of our stance).”

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