By Takao Harakawa
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared his intention to introduce a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-drafted bill for revising Japan’s Constitution during the extraordinary session of the Diet expected to be convened this autumn.
The Prime Minister made this announcement on August 12 during his lecture before the Choshu (Yamaguchi Prefecture) chapter of “Seiron Konwakai.”
The lecture marked the fifth anniversary of the nonprofit organization, whose name “Seiron” means “saying exactly the right thing” and “Konwakai” stands for a forum for exchanging opinions.
The day before, as he announced his plan to run in the LDP presidential election scheduled for September, Abe stressed anew his enthusiasm for explicitly stipulating the status of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in the proposed constitutional revisions.
He also reiterated his resolve to prioritize intraparty debate on proposed constitutional amendments in the upcoming LDP leadership race. (RELATED ARTICLE: Dear Lawmakers: Japan’s Constitution Has Needed Revising in the Last 60 Years)
Key Issue in LDP Leadership Race
Abe’s announcement is interpreted as a response to the remark made by his rival in the party presidential contest, former LDP secretary general Shigeru Ishiba, when he declared his own candidacy on August 10. Ishiba’s was in effect saying he preferred not to make the revision of Article 9 of the Constitution a key issue in the September LDP presidential election.
Abe appears determined that it is better to squarely engage in an open debate on the matter with Ishiba in the LDP leadership election, which will effectively decide Japan’s next prime minister.
However, submitting a constitutional revision bill to the Diet this fall is bound to face strong resistance from the opposition camp. A multitude of events of major political significance are slated for 2019, including a House of Councillors election, leaving the outcome somewhat shrouded with uncertainty.
In his August 12 lecture, Prime Minister Abe introduced several anecdotes from school textbooks that refer to the Self Defense Forces as unconstitutional.
He said: “I’ve heard that an SDF member was asked by his small son, ‘Dad, should the existence of the SDF be considered in violation of the Constitution?’ The son at that time was said to have tears in his eyes.”
Abe added emphatically that there is a strong need for constitutional change to put an end to such comments. (RELATED ARTICLE: Almost All Japanese Look Favorably at the JSDF, So Why Do We Keep the Forces in Limbo?)
Focus of the Debate: Article 9
Among the specifics of the proposed constitutional revisions, Abe has proposed maintaining Paragraph 2 of Article 9, which bans Japan from possessing any war potential, while adding a clause definitively endorsing the SDF and its role. (RELATED ARTICLE: Japan Needs Constitution Change to Have Capabilities to Strike Enemy Bases)
Ishiba, who is good at discussing security policy matters, has so far made a point of calling for deletion of all of Paragraph 2.
In the August 10 press conference in which he declared his candidacy, Ishiba listed his own priorities for the party leadership race. In his view, it is more important for the party to consider ways of scrapping the Upper House electoral districts that combine two prefectures, and to create a new constitutional clause to deal effectively with national emergencies. His argument is that these two pressing issues should take precedence in the party leadership election.
As things stand, the idea of deleting Paragraph 2 of Article 9 seems unlikely to find support among the Japanese public or the LDP’s coalition partner, the Komeito party. Their concern is that such a change would increase the chance of an eventual unlimited exercise of Japan’s right to collective defense. As an LDP senior put it, the argument in favor of doing away with Article 9’s Paragraph 2 would be “justifiable but unrealistic.”
It is noteworthy that some LDP legislators who have so far thrown their support behind Ishiba are threatening to retract their support if he dares to push the issue of Article 9 in the party leadership election.
The LDP panel tasked with articulating the party’s constitutional revision stand drew up a four-point plan in March this year, including revisions to Article 9 as Abe has proposed. One of the panel members argued that Ishiba’s moves to push his own Article 9 proposal in the LDP top post race is “tantamount to overturning the table.”
In his August 12 lecture, Prime Minister Abe said, “I am looking forward to seeing LDP members engage in an in-depth discussion of multifarious issues during the forthcoming party presidential election, to ensure that our party can move forward in unity.”
His is viewed as a sign of his readiness to debate the constitutional revisions in the party leadership race, as if hitting Ishiba where he is weak.
What the Opposition Is About
The Abe-envisioned constitutional revision seems most likely to have rough going in the coming extraordinary session of the Diet. During the session adjourned on July 22, the LDP envisaged expediting discussion of the Constitution between the ruling and opposition blocs through the Commissions on the Constitution in both chambers.
The commissions were supposed to deliberate revisions to the National Referendum Law on Constitutional revision procedures.
The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and others, however, were keen to thwart the effort. While refusing to hold commission deliberations, they instead attempted to shake the Abe administration by raising such questions as Abe’s alleged favoritism toward private school operators, Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution.
The LDP and its ruling coalition partner Komeito jointly presented a bill to revise the law on procedures. However, deliberations went no further than an explanation of the outline by the government in the lower house’s Commission on the Constitution.
Nationwide local elections and an upper house election are scheduled for 2019. Should the ruling camp attempt to steamroll the passage of the constitutional revision in the autumn Diet session on the numerical strength of the ruling parties, there is a risk of bitter repercussions from the opposition parties and the public.
Indications are that Prime Minister Abe is determined to forge ahead with the task of revising the Constitution. He is quoted as saying, “[constitutional revision] is a responsibility that must be fulfilled by politicians alive today.”
For him to succeed, it is an indispensable prerequisite that he achieves an overwhelming victory in the LDP leadership race that beefs up his power base within the party.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)