Murayama Says Forces Are Constitutional : Japan: In turnabout, new Socialist premier declares military OK if used for defensive purposes. Critics say he sold out party’s principles for politics.


Tomiichi Murayama, the Socialist Party chairman elected Japan’s prime minister last month, on Wednesday overturned more than 40 years of party policy and declared that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces do not violate the nation’s pacifist constitution.

In a lively parliamentary session, Murayama declared that the forces do not violate the constitutional ban on use of military power to settle international disputes as long as they are kept at a minimum and used for purely defensive purposes.

His turnabout on one of the Socialists’ most defining policies drew hoots and applause from both the ruling party coalition and the opposition.

Murayama’s statement laid to rest fears that Japan’s first Socialist prime minister since 1947 would seek to impose his party’s leftist views on longstanding national policies.


He drew sharp criticism, however, from opposition leaders and some Socialists, who say he sold out the party’s principles for the sake of political expediency.

In other departures from entrenched Socialist policies, Murayama reiterated support for the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and said he would “respect” the rising-sun flag and “Kimigayo” anthem as national symbols. Most Socialists opposed them as symbols of Japan’s imperialism during World War II.

“I think this is a big step toward national consensus on defense, the security treaty and the SDF (security forces),” said a visibly delighted Tetsuya Nishimoto, the Japan Defense Agency’s chief of staff.

Despite the magnitude of Murayama’s policy flip-flop, most Socialists seemed resigned to it as an acceptance of reality. The issue will be formally decided at the party’s general meeting in September.


The Japanese news media reported a “heavy mood” in the Socialist section of the lower house of Parliament, where Murayama made his statement in response to sharp questioning by former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, head of the opposition Renewal Party. But most Socialists felt the switch “couldn’t be helped,” the press reported.

Party spokesman Masamitsu Saito said 80% of the executive committee supported Murayama’s position, which he said was the culmination of a new, more realistic policy shift that began in 1991. Last year, the party drafted a new policy, declaring the forces themselves constitutional but their present size and military capabilities beyond constitutional limits because they went beyond mere defense.

The policy was never officially adopted, but Saito said it remains the party’s general position. He argued that Murayama has not actually contradicted the party position because he has stressed the need for a reduction in forces--a direction the Japan Defense Agency is headed toward anyway.

But the Socialists have not tackled the question of how far military capabilities must be curtailed to bring them in line with the constitution, Saito said.


Saito said he did not believe the party is in danger of splintering over the issue. Asked what the Socialists now stand for since they have abandoned many of their defining principles, Saito said they will seek alliance with other forces to limit the size and scope of Japan’s political and military muscle.

That position--that Japan should be a “small but shining nation"--has been chiefly advocated by Masayoshi Takemura, the head of the New Party Harbinger who is now serving as finance minister in the current coalition government. His party jointly rules with the Socialists and the Liberal Democratic Party.

The opposition advocates a more active role for Japan in international diplomacy and U.N. peacekeeping operations.

But if most Socialists seemed unperturbed by the turnabout, many Japanese expressed bewilderment or disgust. “They have changed their approach completely,” one woman told television reporters. “It sounds like they’re telling a lie.”


Meanwhile, two new newspaper polls showed widespread disapproval of the Murayama Cabinet. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported a 46.2% disapproval rating--the second-highest in history for a newly inaugurated administration--compared with 37.1% approval.

The Asahi Shimbun found a 44% disapproval rating, compared with 35% approval. The survey also found that 56% of those asked felt uneasy about Murayama’s international debut at the recent summit of leaders of the world’s most powerful industrialized nations in Naples, Italy.