This could apply to a lot of things, but for now I will look at the announcement that applicants to run for the Nippon Ishin no Kai (JRA) need to agree “100 percent” with the JRA platform.
This is perhaps not as unreasonable as it first looks. It will be unusual for Americans perhaps, and others from presidential systems, but in parliamentary party-focused systems, when you join the party you are expected to fall more or less in line with the policy direction of the senior leadership. Unless there is a conscience or individual vote, or there is a leadership change/battle (which happen much less often in parliamentary systems other than Japan), it is very seldom that an MP will publicly, at least, express an opinion contrary to his or her leader’s policy. Party discipline is important, along with discipline within cabinet (perhaps more important). This was part of the Ozawa “dream” to fully bring a Westminster style political culture and institutions into Japan’s parliamentary system. It is possible that Hashimoto might, quietly and perhaps unintentionally, succeed where Ozawa did not.
Of course, the key difference is that even if party discipline is important, usually the party’s policy is negotiated and a consensus arises at least among the top leadership, even if the middle and lower level MPs have to suck it in for the time being. In Hashimoto’s case, it is less than clear that such policies have been arrived at by any kind of consensus or process. Perhaps absurdly, while having made the public demand that 100 percent conformity is essential, the application form for running for the JRA in the lower house asks one their opinion on a range of issues, such as education, government, diplomacy and social security. Given that Hashimoto just last week published the
answer book policy program for the JRA, I wonder what these politically ambitious people are going to write?
Just to give the applicants more help with filling in the forms, Hashimoto has come out in support of Japan embracing the right to collective self-defense. Not surprising or stunning, and probably no where near as controversial as it used to be. He mentions that it would be wise to still have restrictions on its use, suggesting that even Hashimoto would not support a complete elimination of Article 9.* His statement however seems to open the door to change by interpretation rather than constitutional change, which he had shied away from before. If so, this is a problem. If Japan really is the “the most mature, democratic nation in Asia” then it is necessary that the constitution, and its protector, the Japanese Supreme Court, are taken more seriously (or the SC is made to take itself seriously!). He states:
“The right has been recognized also by the U.N. Charter. Why can’t we exercise this right that we have…That does not make sense logically and linguistically.”
To be sure, I personally think that the current state of affairs is odd. But it makes perfect logical and linguistic sense. The right to collective self-defense is not a legal obligation in international law. It is a right you can choose not to exercise. If one wants to use national constitutional law to restrain the exercise of this right, then what is there to understand?
* Actually eliminating Article 9 would be nonsensical. The first paragraph is more or less part of the UN Charter that most grown up nations have signed on to and agreed to. Few nations’ constitutions recognize this, but it would look odd going out of one’s way to eliminate it.