85% of lawmakers support revising the Constitution

An overwhelming majority of lawmakers support the idea of revising the Constitution, which strictly limits the use of military force for settling international disputes, according to a Kyodo News survey.

Conducted during the month of August, the survey found that 84.5 percent of members of both chambers of the Diet support the idea and that eight out of 10 Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers favor revising the war-renouncing Article 9.

Under Article 9, Japan renounces “the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” and forswears the possession of “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

While the LDP and the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan are set to present their respective proposals for constitutional amendments within the next two years, the survey found that major political parties — especially the two forming the ruling coalition — have different priorities about which provisions to revise.

Among the respondents inclined to revision, the largest portion, 59.5 percent, said the Constitution should be reviewed in terms of Article 9 and the Self-Defense Forces, the two major issues in the current debate on the Constitution.

Almost 60 percent of those in favor of changes said they believe the Constitution, which the U.S. Occupation under Gen. Douglas MacArthur drafted after World War II, has become outdated. After some government revisions to the so-called “MacArthur draft,” the Constitution took effect in 1947.

But 11.2 percent of all respondents are either opposed to revising the Constitution or said changes are unnecessary. The majority of them, or 61.2 percent, said the top priority should be placed instead on realizing what is already stipulated in the current Constitution.

Respondents were split over the right to collective defense, or Japan’s right to come to the military aid of its allies. The government interprets the Constitution as forbidding Japan from exercising that right, which is guaranteed under international law.

While 41.6 percent said either the Constitution or the government’s interpretation of it should be revised to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective defense, 36.5 percent said Japan should not exercise that right by either sticking to the current government interpretation or revising the Constitution to that effect.

The survey also showed that opinion differs over whether to institute a permanent law, apart from the Constitution, to permit the dispatch of SDF troops overseas, with 28.1 percent for the idea and 33.7 percent against.

Deploying the SDF overseas is restricted within the framework of a law regarding Japan’s cooperation with U.N. peacekeeping operations. Other operations, such as antiterrorism logistic support near Afghanistan and reconstruction assistance in Iraq, required the passage of special laws.

More than three-quarters of all respondents, or 75.8 percent, are against revising the nation’s “Three Nonnuclear Principles,” while 13 percent favor a change. The principles refer to the policy of not possessing, producing or permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan.

Asked whether a provision stipulating the nurturing of patriotism should be added to the Constitution, 38.8 percent are against it and 34.7 percent support it.

The survey polled 480 House of Representatives lawmakers and 242 House of Councilors members last month. Valid responses came from 397, or 55 percent, of the parliamentarians.

The LDP is scheduled to submit a proposal to revise the Constitution in November 2005 and the DPJ is expected to announce its proposal in 2006.

But the survey found a significant gap between the LDP and its coalition ally, New Komeito, especially over Article 9, the SDF deployment legislation and exercising the right to collective defense.

Eight in 10 of LDP respondents said Article 9 and the role of the SDF should be revised, but less than one in five, or 18 percent, of New Komeito members ‘did.

The biggest number of New Komeito respondents, or 78.9 percent, said a new article regarding environmental rights should be added to the Constitution.

On the right to collective defense, 76.8 percent of LDP respondents support a revision or a new interpretation, but 84.6 percent of those from New Komeito are against such a move.

It remains unclear how the LDP will steer the debate and whether the differences within the governing coalition will affect the alliance.

Among the DPJ, the largest portion of respondents, or 46.7 percent, said changes should be made regarding Article 9 and the SDF, and 39.4 percent emphasized the need to decentralize authority to local governments.

But the DPJ appears split over the issue of exercising the right to collective defense, with 47 percent against and 25.3 percent supportive of a revision.

On overseas SDF dispatches, 53.6 percent of LDP and 30 percent of New Komeito respondents are in favor of creating permanent legislation, while 48.2 percent of the DPJ and all the respondents of the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party are against it.

A majority vote in a national referendum, after endorsements of at least two-thirds of all the members of both Diet chambers, is required to revise the Constitution.