This year commemorates the 70th year of implementation of the Local Autonomy Act. The law is regarded as the key that ‘local autonomy exists in order to materialize people’s sovereignty stipulated in the Constitution’. Democracy bases on local autonomy. In this context the Local Autonomy Act was implemented on the same day as the Constitution.
LOCAL AUTONOMY FACES CRITICAL PHASE IN UNDERMINING PEOPLE’S SOVEREIGNTY
Meiji Constitution Lacks Local Autonomy
The local government system provided in the Meiji Constitution, the previous constitution, did not pledge local autonomy; the state government controlled the entire nation with centralized power. For instance, governors were appointed by the central government. Foundation of a modern state in Japan, too, began with absence of local autonomy after the Edo Era’s ‘Daimyo territories’ had been disintegrated.
The modern state became further centralized by the consecutive administrations and nationwide uniformity prevailed and deepened. Under these circumstances the representation system could not reflect people’s demands and aspirations. People’s hopelessness, being a hotbed, was led to the totalitarian regime.
Adolf Hitler of Germany, saying ‘the parliament is a place of chattering and useless’, neglected parliamentary democracy to formulate a fascist state. In Japan, too, the situation was basically the same, though some differences were seen in the process to destroy the parliamentary system.
The new constitution, today’s Constitution, specifies ‘local autonomy works to respond to and cope with diverse needs of locality, which includes a direct democratic system of residents in a small municipality’, reviewing the historic developments. That is, politics conducted solely by the central government could not manage demands of people. The new constitution stipulates that a municipality has the administrative and legislative rights as a government. It is to face the central government and as an equal entity.
Under the today’s Constitution the central government has mandate over national level agenda, while a local government is in charge of regional affairs, including livelihood of residents. It used to be said that ‘local autonomy is the best school of democracy’. It was because people have an easier access to and learn from a municipality as it is within their reach. The Constitution divides public power into two, the national and municipal, in order to check and balance it to evade abuses and defend the human rights. This is the constitutional spirit.
Two Wheels of Democracy
The Local Autonomy Act was put in force on the same day as the Constitution as the other wheel of democracy. Now, let’s think over. Does local autonomy work rightly? The sole answer is that it is ‘critical’. This fact is seen in the ‘dictatorial’ cabinet of the Abe government: it has an arrogant stance to Okinawa Prefecture, especially, in terms of the construction of a new military base in Henoko area.
The revised Special Measures Law for US Military Bases (1997) is formally applied to all lands held by the US military throughout the nation. For this reason the law does not seem to be covered by the Special Law on Local Autonomy (stipulated in Article 95 of Constitution). In real term, however, it targets Okinawa Prefecture where residents oppose the continued use by the US military of land whose contract is expired. From the point of a constitutional rule the issue should be dealt with by a plebiscite of residents.
As for the ‘National Strategic Special Zones’ planned by the Abe government to sweep away regulations, specific geographic locations are involved as they are designated. Thus, a plebiscite should be held in accordance with Article 95 of Constitution (Member of House of Councilors Yamamoto Taro). The government, however, replies an opinion research is enough as an administrative discretion.
A scheme was announced recently to ‘abrogate the local assembly to create a general assembly of villagers’ due to a population decrease. It is high time for us to review ‘the starting point of local autonomy’ in order to realize principles of direct democratic system.
June 13, 2017