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Kishida: Constitutional Reform Referendum Should Happen 'As Soon As Possible' 

Identifying four priorities for constitutional reform, PM Fumio Kishida asks, "Can we really protect the lives and livelihoods of our citizens" without them?



constitutional reform
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sits down with the Sankei Shimbun for an interview on April 19, 2023. At the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Wednesday, May 3, was the 76th anniversary of the enactment of Japan's Constitution. Ahead of the date, Minister Fumio Kishida sat for an interview with The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward, where he expressed his willingness to hold a national referendum as soon as possible on the question of whether to proceed with constitutional reform.

Kishida emphasized his "strong desire" to achieve constitutional reform during his present term as president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). He also affirmed that his determination to stay in his position until September 2024, "remains unchanged."

One of the LDP's goals in the revision is the explicit mention of "improving the educational environment" in the Constitution. This would "boost" the administration's efforts to address the unprecedented declining births in Japan, said the Prime Minister.

In the interview, which took place April 19 at the Prime Minister's Official Residence, Kishida also stressed other points. "The current Constitution has become out of step with the times, and some parts of it have become inadequate," he said. "This is an issue that cannot be put off." 

constitutional reform
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sits down with the Sankei Shimbun for an interview on April 19, 2023. At the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Four Priorities

Kishida characterized all four of the LDP's priorities for constitutional revision as pressing contemporary issues. These are: 

  • clarifying the status of the Self-Defense Forces under Article 9 of the Constitution; 
  • adding an emergency clause that would enable the term of Diet members to be extended during emergency situations, 
  • adding a clause on the election system with reference to merged constituencies; and 
  • improving the educational environment by mandating free tuition.

Furthermore, Kishida insisted that "we must work hard to give the public the opportunity to choose as soon as possible." 

Challenging Process

Japan's Constitution provides that all proposed amendments to the document must be initiated by the Diet. Moreover, they must have a concurring vote of two-thirds of the members of both the Upper House (House of Councillors) and House of Representatives before being submitted to the people for ratification.  

Kishida added that such a popular vote needs to be expedited. He said: "It is important to deepen the debate and increase the number of people who agree with the proposal. That is necessary to obtain the agreement of two-thirds of the Diet."

declining births
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida holds a press conference on his new "Children-First" policy on March 17(© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Creating Equal Opportunities through Education

The Prime Minister considers measures to combat the declining births to be one of his administration's top priorities. 

Concerning improvement of the educational environment, he said, "It is important that everyone, irrespective of their family's economic circumstances, be given an equal opportunity to receive a quality education and to develop their individuality and abilities."


Kishida added, "Including this in the Constitution would give impetus to child- and child-rearing policies."

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reviews the International Fleet at the ceremony on November 6, 2022. (© Sankei

Defending the Nation

Kishida cited recent disturbing developments. He mentioned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's launching of ballistic missiles into Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), among others. Then Kishida asked, "Can we really protect the lives and livelihoods of our citizens in the face of such threats?"

Speaking rhetorically, he then analyzed Japan's current situation in sum, saying, "Based on the judgment that our current posture is inadequate, we have decided to drastically strengthen our defense capabilities."

Kishida added: "The Self-Defense Forces are playing an increasingly crucial role. It is therefore extremely important to firmly establish the position of the SDF in the Constitution."

constitutional reform
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at the task force meeting of the LDP's Constitution Committee on April 25, 2023 in Tokyo. (© Sankei by Yukuto Hagihara)

Engaging the Discussion in the Diet

There have been several proposed drafts of emergency clauses during the current Diet session. For example, the Nippon Ishin (Japan Renovation Party), the Kokumin Minshuto (Democratic Party for the People), and other groups have proposed their versions. PM Kishida lauded them for participating in "constructive and sincere discussions."

"In order to initiate amendments, we need to actively engage in discussions," he added. "That has to happen to reach a consensus with the opposition parties."

No Election Plans

Kishida was asked whether he is prepared to dissolve the House of Representatives. That would allow him to take the issue of constitutional revision to the voters in a general election. 

However, Kishida replied, "I want to give first priority to dealing one by one with issues that cannot be postponed." He was quick to add, "I'm not thinking about an election at this point in time."

The Prime Minister has less than a year and a half remaining before his term as LDP president expires. Asked if he intends to run for reelection, Kishida avoided making a clear commitment one way or the other. 

Instead, he simply said, "It is not appropriate to comment on reelection in the future without seeing what progress is made." He was referring, naturally, to the debate on constitutional revision.



(Read the interview in Japanese.)

Interview by: Jiro Otani, The Sankei Shimbun