Shinzo Abe became Japan’s longest-serving top political leader in the nation’s post-war history on November 20, having served for a total of 2,887 days. What tasks is he going to address during the reminder of his term?
Abe’s term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expires in September of 2021, the third year of the Reiwa Era and less than two years away. While a myriad of important political challenges lie ahead, it is clear that one of the tasks he will tackle in earnest from now on is the issue of revising the Constitution.
Close aides to the Prime Minister have quoted him as saying recently: “Indeed, there is a pile of tasks that I must deal with during the period left in my term as LDP president, including the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, the territorial problem of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, and ways of helping the nation break free from deflation. The one issue that could be brought to a conclusion domestically, however, is revision of the Constitution.”
Such issues as the abduction problem and the territorial row with Russia involve several uncertainties that can be swayed by both the political situation of the counterpart countries with which Japan must negotiate, and Japan’s own internal affairs. Likewise, efforts to stop the deflationary spiral in Japan’s economy are subject to fluctuations of the global economy.
Revising the Constitution has been the LDP’s long-cherished goal since the party’s establishment in 1955. Considering that it is an entirely domestic issue, the goal of revising the supreme law is achievable, if Prime Minister Abe and his party work on the challenge together with unwavering determination.
Recognizing the Legitimacy of the Self-Defense Forces
In particular, the 65-year-old Prime Minister has gone on record as saying he is determined “not to back down from my cause” of revising Article 9 of the United States-drafted Constitution, to write into it explicitly the existence of the Self-Defense Forces. (READ ALSO: Japan Constitution’s Article 9 is Anti-Peace. Why Preserve It?)
Currently, about 60% of constitutional scholars have deemed the existence of the SDF unconstitutional. Such organizations as the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party of Japan have also branded the SDF as violating the Constitution.
Indeed, barely recognized as a legal entity, it is only thanks to the top law’s reinterpretation by the government in 1954 that the SDF is tolerated as not running afoul of the Constitution. Meanwhile, the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming more severe each year, raising the level of importance of the SDF to Japan. (READ ALSO: Almost All Japanese Look Favorably at the JSDF, So Why Do We Keep the Forces in Limbo?)
Prime Minister Abe is of the belief that SDF troops should “establish their place in the sun,” with their status clearly stipulated in the Constitution. In a video message he sent to a gathering on the Constitution hosted by LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai in the city of Wakayama, Wakayama Prefecture, on October 18, he said:
I am resolved to put an end to the controversies swirling around the constitutionality of the SDF. I want to enable its members to carry a sense of pride in the duties they perform, when they are working hard to safeguard the nation day after day, exerting themselves for the cause of protecting the lives of the people.
It reflects the belief he has maintained persistently since he introduced a bill to upgrade the then-status of the agency of defense to the Defense Ministry in 2006, during his brief first term as prime minister.
A National Referendum on Constitutional Revision
The National Referendum Law setting procedures for revising the Constitution by plebiscite was also enacted during the first Abe administration. Now there is a proposed revision to the National Referendum Law with the aim of making it more consistent with the existing Public Offices Election Law.
If enacted, the proposed revisions would enhance the convenience of the referendum law. Referring to it, Prime Minister Abe has been cited as saying, “There can be no other choice but to do the legislation during the current session of the Diet.”
The Prime Minister now is poised to make use of the preparatory moves that were put in place under his first administration, with a view to “breaking away from the [post-war] Occupation regime” that has constrained Japan and a range of its institutions since Japan’s defeat in World War II.
‘In Spite of it All,’ Daring to Revise the Constitution
He is determined to engage squarely in the key task of revising the Constitution that successive predecessor LDP administrations intentionally circumvented because of the level of challenge involved. He has gone so far as to say, “To revise the Constitution, I’ll dare to dissolve the House of Representatives for a general election if necessary.”
Given the determination emanating from the Prime Minister when he speaks to his associates, he will surely not hesitate to seek the people’s mandate through a lower house general election when the time comes. In response to the Prime Minister’s resolve, LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, one of the prospective candidates for the top LDP post after Prime Minister Abe leaves office, has shown a willingness to play an energetic role in sheperding the constitutional revision. He has been holding, among other things, policy research council meetings at local chapters of the LDP.
Should revision to the Constitution fail to be realized now, it would seem highly unlikely Japan will have another opportunity to revise the top law anytime soon. Abe presides over the longest-running and stable government, with approval ratings hovering at considerably high levels, accompanied by his strong personal desire to achieve constitutional revision.
Prime Minister Abe appears well aware that constitutional revision has the best chance now.
In an interview with journalist-turned-political analyst Shiro Tazaki in the December edition of the Bungei Shunju monthly, Prime Minister Abe quotes a passage from Politics as a Vocation by Max Weber (1864-1920), a German sociologist and economist. Abe noted the importance of the spirit of saying, “In spite of all!” as a factor necessary in the world of politics. The part relevant here in the original, Politik als Beruf, reads as follows:
Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble…. Only he who in the face of all this can say “In spite of all!” has the calling for politics.
During the remainder of his term, Prime Minister Abe is most likely to have his determination in this regard tested.
(Click here to read the original column in Japanese.)
- Japan’s Unchanged Constitution Impedes Collective Defense with the U.S., Other Allies[Speaking Out] Constitution’s Article 9 Impedes Japan-U.S. Alliance
- Abe’s Cabinet Reshuffle Signals Push for Constitutional Reform, Grooming of Next Leaders
- Decisive Election Victory Firms Up Abe’s Resolve to Make Constitutional Reform Happen
- Prime Minister Abe Aims for National Referendum to Revise the Constitution
- To Influence East Asia, Japan Should First Amend Its Constitution
- Behind Xi Jinping ‘Smiling Diplomacy’ Is a Strategy to Stop the Revision of Japan’s Constitution
Author: Rui Abiru
Rui Abiru is an editorial writer and a senior political news writer of The Sankei Shimbun.