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Hashtags supporting Communist Party trend after Japan PM heckles opposition lawmaker

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks at opposition lawmakers after a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting came to a halt following Abe's heckling, in this picture taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 8, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Tweets with hashtags showing support for the opposition Japanese Communist Party (JCP) are trending after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heckled an opposition party lawmaker during a Diet session, shouting, "(Japanese) Communist Party!"

Abe's remark came as Hideya Sugio of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) was asking a question about a suggestion by communications minister Sanae Takaichi in 2016 that broadcasters could be taken off the air if they repeatedly failed to maintain political fairness, which at the time sparked criticism from opposition forces as well as constitutional scholars.

Pointing at Sugio, Abe called out "Communist Party!" from his seat. The Nov. 8 Diet session had to be paused because of the prime minister's comment.

The incident prompted prominent psychiatrist Rika Kayama to tweet on Nov. 8, "I feel like I want to create a tag that says '#I'mtheCommunistParty,'" and the hashtag began to trend after this.

Following Kayama's tweet, Twitter users posted supportive as well as critical comments about the JCP, with tweets such as, "I'm not a (Japanese) Communist Party (member), but I'm against any move that ridicules them" and, "While I'm not a Communist Party (member), I sympathize (with Kayama's stand)."

The Twitter users who showed support included those identifying themselves as a local CDP lawmaker and a member of the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, the main support organization of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s junior coalition partner Komeito. There was a tweet that said, "I was called 'Communist Party' when I was just disagreeing with someone."

In response to numerous tweets with the hashtag, Kayama tweeted two days later, "The hashtag which I, being neither a Communist Party member nor politician, tweeted has spread not only among Communist Party members but also other opposition party politicians and their supporters as well as people who thought that jeer was outrageous, which is heartwarming for me."

Another hashtag, "The Communist Party is an ally," also trended after the Social Democratic Party's Niigata prefectural chapter tweeted, "We cannot directly use this hashtag, but to show solidarity: #TheCommunistPartyisanAlly."

Kayama explained why she tweeted the hashtag, saying, "The heckling was something that ridicules the JCP as well as voters. I wanted to protest by sharing my rage that it shouldn't be tolerated."

A similar trend was seen in 2016 when the hashtag "It was me whose child wasn't accepted for day care" quickly spread after an angry blog post by a mother whose child was unable to receive day care services went viral. She wrote, "Hoikuen ochita Nihon shine!!!" (My child wasn't accepted for day care. Die, Japan!!!).

Asked about the blog entry at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session in February that year, Prime Minister Abe said, "There is no way of confirming this case is actually true since it's posted anonymously." Meanwhile, ruling coalition members heckled an opposition lawmaker who was questioning Abe over the matter, shouting, "Who wrote it?" In response to this Diet session, many, mainly mothers, took to Twitter with the hashtag.

Sugio welcomed the "#I'mtheCommunistParty" tag, commenting, "I'm flattered." At the same time, he expressed disappointment over Abe's heckling, saying, "It's an example of labeling others and dismissing anyone who disagrees. This shows he has no respect for diversity."

JCP secretariat head Akira Koike told a news conference on Nov. 11, "It's absolutely unacceptable for heckling to come from a Cabinet member's seat. If he intends to label someone (as the JCP), he has no understanding of democracy."

Freelance journalist Soichiro Tahara told the Mainichi Shimbun that the Abe administration "has become sloppy as it has run the government for a long time." He slammed LDP lawmakers, saying, "All LDP members have become (Abe's) 'yes-men.' All they do is suck up to the prime minister."

Tahara added, "While other opposition parties are still inadequate, I believe people have hopes for the JCP, which has been grilling the prime minister over issues including exploiting a (publicly funded) cherry blossom-viewing party for his own gain."

Another freelance journalist, Osamu Aoki, commented, "If the prime minister thinks the term 'Communist Party' as a slur, that is unbelievable. I sympathize (with the Twitter trend) if it's a movement against the prime minister's labeling gimmick."

(Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara and Yoshitaka Koyama, Political News Department)

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