Potential Abe Successor Speaks Out Against Japan’s Defense Bills

A possible rival for the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party spoke out against his plans to expand the role of Japan’s military.

“To tell the truth, that’s a question mark,” Seiko Noda said in an interview Wednesday when asked whether she backed bills to enable Japan’s armed forces to defend allies. “Lawmakers who are practically defense nerds are suddenly flinging these unfamiliar ideas at the public.”

Noda, who’s been mentioned as a candidate to become Japan’s first female prime minister, is only the second senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker to criticize the legislation.

With Japan embroiled in a territorial dispute with an increasingly assertive China, Abe pushed the bills through the lower house of parliament earlier this month against public opinion. His support rate has tumbled and thousands of people have taken to the streets of Tokyo to protest the changes.

A former chairwoman of the LDP’s general council, Noda temporarily left the party a decade ago after a dispute with then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi over the privatization of the postal services. She said she wouldn’t try to stop the security bills that are set to be enacted by September. Instead, she’d seek to change them later to reflect public opposition to Abe’s reinterpretation of the pacifist Article 9 of the postwar constitution.

“Japan is appreciated because we have passed the last 70 years under Article 9 without killing anyone,” Noda, 54, said at her offices in central Tokyo. “We should see this as a badge of honor.”

She criticized the government for failing to explain the new policies to the public. She singled out a recent TV appearance in which Abe compared the concept of defending other countries to helping extinguish a fire in a neighbor’s house that threatened to spread to one’s own home.

“It’s not a fire,” she said. “Thinking you can compare it to a fire because the public doesn’t understand is just making fun of them. It actually makes it even harder to understand.”

Domestic Focus

While domestic media have speculated that Noda might run against Abe in a September party leadership election, she said she had no plans to stand “as of today.” She listed a number of lawmakers, including Shigeru Ishiba, minister for regional revitalization, and Koizumi’s son, Shinjiro, as qualified to run for the post.

In a poll published by the Sankei newspaper earlier this month, 26 percent of respondents said Abe was the best-qualified person to lead Japan, with 9.3 percent opting for Ishiba and 1.3 percent for Noda. About 36 percent said no politician was suitable.

Noda said that Abe shouldn’t try to stay on as premier through to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and should stand down in 2018 after two, three-year terms as party president to make way for a leader with a more domestic focus.

“His support rate has fallen so far that it’s more a question of whether he can get through the upper house election” in July next year, she said.