Anti-war Japanese student organization to close shop after Upper House elections

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A PRO-DEMOCRACY student group behind this summer’s massive youth protest against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s security legislation plans to dissolve after next year’s Upper House election, members said Wednesday.

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Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) gained widespread attention over the summer for a series of anti-war rallies held near the Diet building to protest the administration’s push to allow the nation’s military to fight abroad for the first time since the end of World War II.

Known for its unconventional demonstrations, which included rap-influenced music and stylish placards, the group was hailed for leading a resurgence in youth activism that sparked hopes in society that the nation’s politically apathetic youngsters may be changing.

“Since we started our activities as an ‘emergency action,’ and many of our members are slated to graduate from universities soon, SEALDs will dissolve after next summer’s Upper House election,” group member Mana Shibata, 22, revealed during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

“After that, if individual persons want to take action or create another movement, they are free to do so.”

Before their movement became SEALDs, many members protested the state secrecy law — contentious legislation championed by Abe that many said would impinge on people’s right to know or discover crucial government information. That group called itself SASPL, or Students Against Secret Protection Law.

After the security bills were rammed through the Diet last month, SEALDs is now focusing its activities on gearing up for next summer’s Upper House election, members said. Its newest mission: to call on opposition parties to form a united front against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Noting that the passage of the bills signals Japan’s democracy is “on the verge of collapse,” member Takeshi Suwahara, 22, said: “What is happening is a crisis. I know opposition parties have their own conflicting interests. But they must listen to voices of the public and cooperate with each other.”

Dismayed at an ever-decreasing voter turnout among the young, SEALDs will also ramp up efforts to encourage younger people to vote in elections.

The nation’s 18- and 19-year-olds will now for the first time be allowed to cast ballots in accordance with a legal revision in June.

Aside from making continued efforts to organize related rallies and symposiums, members will try to establish voting booths in places such as train stations, shopping malls and universities, they said.

“Demographically speaking, young people in Japan are underrepresented and as a result it’s difficult for their voices to be reflected in politics and fulfill their needs for education and social welfare. I believe this election is a chance to change such a trend,” Suwahara said.

©2015 THE JAPAN TIMES (TOKYO) / DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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