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2014年5月 2日 (金)

(社説)護憲後援拒否 霞を払い議論をひらけ

May 01, 2014
EDITORIAL: Timid public servants have a lot to answer for
(社説)護憲後援拒否 霞を払い議論をひらけ

In a cherry blossom viewing party he hosted on April 12, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe composed a haiku.
“Kyuryo no agarishi haru wa yaezakura” (This spring/ with pay increased/ double cherry blossoms are particularly beautiful)
When he attended a central May Day rally organized by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation on April 26, an incident occurred that made people uneasy.

Police officers stuck close to four male participants in the rally carrying signs that read: “Consumption tax: Pay it by youreslf.” They told the men not to hold up the signs. When the men refused, the officers kept on at them, saying they were hoisting the signs too high and other excuses.

When Abe started speaking in front of the microphone, the four shouted, “No to unpaid overtime!” Immediately, the police officers surrounded them and shoved them out of the venue.

The men repeatedly asked the officers what was wrong with hoisting the signs and the reason for them being forced out of the site by police. They wanted to know the legal grounds for these actions. But they received no clear answer.

The episode appears to be another troubling sign of the growing trend toward suppressing dissenting views and debate on politically delicate issues since Abe took office.

Since last year, many local governments have refused to support events that were planned to underscore the importance of protecting the war-renouncing Constitution.

The city of Chiba declined a request for support to a pro-Constitution rally held in January.

The gathering featured a lecture on the implications of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s draft proposal for the Constitution. In explaining its decision not to support the event, the municipal government said it had judged that “subjective views would be expressed in the lecture on an issue that is sparking a nationwide debate.”

Similarly, the city of Kobe took the same position for a gathering of supporters of the Constitution in its current form to be held May 3, which is Constitution Day.

The municipal government said its political neutrality could possibly be undermined if it supported the event, according to the organizing committee for the gathering. And yet, the city supported two similar events in the past.

Article 99 of the Constitution says, “The Emperor or the Regent as well as Ministers of State, members of the Diet, judges, and all other public officials have the obligation to respect and uphold this Constitution.”

It is odd to see public servants who are obliged to uphold the Constitution refuse to back a meeting held to protect the Constitution.

What does “political neutrality” mean? Could there be any lecture in which no “subjective view” is voiced?

It is hard to believe that the decisions by the municipal governments were made after weighing the matter carefully.

What is likely to be behind these episodes is a pathetic attitude of local government officials acting on their desire not to rock the boat. These officials are probably excessively sensitive to what they deem as the wishes and feelings of the Abe administration, which has made constitutional amendment a priority on its political agenda, and its supporters. They apparently fear that supporting a pro-Constitution meeting could provoke a backlash.

Some local governments are now reconsidering their criteria for lending support to events. Previously, the city of Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture, for instance, made a point of not offering support for events that serve “political or religious purposes.” But in April, the municipal government decided to expand the scope of events covered by the rule to eschew anything that has a “political or religious tinge.”

The decision indicates the city’s reluctance to support or get involved in any event that could be controversial in any way.

But dissenting opinions and serious, lively debates on important issues are key factors for the resiliency and resourcefulness of society. Local governments should rather be willing to take on the trouble of promoting diversity of thought.

Society can break up a fog of intolerance when local governments perform their roles in opening up and encouraging debate on important issues for people.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 1


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