Tsubasa no To’s Obstructions ‘Threatened Freedom of Elections’; Pattern of Obstructive Behavior Included ‘Car Chases’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tsubasa no To leader Atsuhiko Kurowara, right, interrupts independent candidate Hirotada Ototake as he makes a speech on top of his campaign vehicle during a Tokyo by-election campaign in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on April 16.

The issue of obstructions of stump speeches by the Tsubasa no To political group during the House of Representatives by-election campaign in Tokyo Constituency No. 15 in April has developed into an unusual criminal investigation.

This is because the Metropolitan Police Department has apparently determined that the series of obstructions threatened the “freedom of elections,” which is the foundation of democracy.

Regarding the MPD’s decision to launch the criminal investigation into the political group on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law, a senior police official said: “Although there have been cases before in which plural candidates made their speeches at the same places, the repeated intentional obstructions by [Tsubasa no To] clearly crossed a line. We couldn’t overlook its behavior.”

The acts of obstruction began on April 16, the day when the start of the by-election campaign was officially announced.

In front of JR Kameido Station in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, Ryosuke Nemoto, a candidate from the political group, and others drove their campaign vehicle right in front of the camp of independent candidate Hirotada Ototake, who was making his first speech there.

Nemoto and the group’s leader, Atsuhiko Kurokawa, used a loudspeaker to shout for about an hour and even climbed on top of a telephone booth. Their remarks included: “We have no interest, even if you talk about your policies.”

Some people who came to hear Ototake’s speech covered their ears and left the site as they could not bear the sound of the horn of the political group’s campaign vehicle and could not hear the speech.

This pattern of obstructive behavior continued against other camps as well, with dangerous acts such as chasing other candidates’ campaign cars in what the political group themselves called “car chases,” and banging on the windows of campaign cars to “ask questions.”

Article 225 of the Public Offices Election Law stipulates that the act of interfering with a stump speech constitutes a “crime of obstruction of freedom of elections.”

In June 1948, before the law took effect, the Supreme Court defined obstruction of speeches as being a situation where “it is made virtually impossible for a person to make a speech.” Another Supreme Court ruling in December 1948 said that “making it impossible or difficult for the audience to hear the speech” also constitutes obstruction of speech.

Jeering itself is not restricted during election campaigns.

Regarding trouble during stump speeches, there have been arguments in court over the propriety of Hokkaido police removing a man and a woman who jeered at then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the 2019 House of Councillors election campaign.

The district and high court ruled that the woman’s jeering “did not make it virtually impossible for the audience to hear the speech itself.” The woman was speaking from within the audience and was not using a loudspeaker.

Toru Mori, a professor of constitutional law at Kyoto University, said, “Tsubasa no To’s actions were clearly different from jeering, which is allowed as a method of expression, and it is inevitable that they are the subject of a criminal investigation.”