Diet panels to recommend that Constitution be revised

Committee chairmen agree to 'take a step forward'

Two Diet panels are set to recommend amending the Constitution in separate final reports due out in May, according to sources close to the panels.

The two panels, both named the Research Commission on the Constitution — one in the House of Representatives and the other in the House of Councilors — are expected to include a statement in their reports on the need for constitutional revision, given that many members of the panels expressed views favoring an amendment, the sources said.

The agreement on the revision was reached at a meeting of Taro Nakayama, who chairs the Lower House panel, and his counterpart in the Upper House, Katsutsugu Sekiya, after an extraordinary Diet session closed in early August, the sources said.

Nakayama and Sekiya agreed the panels should not just report what has been discussed but also “take a step forward in proclaiming that the Constitution should be revised,” the sources said.

Both lawmakers belong to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is supportive of revising the Constitution.

The two panel chiefs agreed to submit their reports possibly by May 3 — Constitution Day — next year.

They also concurred that standing committees on the issue be established in both chambers so that the constitutional review will formally be placed on the Diet agenda, the sources said. A standing committee has the power to propose bills.

The panels’ respective executive committees are expected to explain to the various parties how the reports will be compiled and seek their approval, and also to conduct additional studies on the matter, the sources said.

But the panels may see heated debate before endorsing such a recommendation, since the panels were established as organs to “conduct far-reaching and comprehensive research on the Constitution.”

Panel members from the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, which oppose any change to the Constitution, are almost certain to argue that the panels do not have the power to make recommendations on whether to revise the supreme code.

The panels were set up in January 2000. They had been tasked to conduct their respective research on the Constitution and report it to the heads of both Diet chambers.

There is no stipulation as to how the report should be compiled, but in what can be seen as a precursor to an atmosphere in favor of constitutional revision, the Lower House panel produced an interim report in November 2002 suggesting that a larger number of its members favor a revision.

The likely move by the panels to push for constitutional revision is apparently encouraged by the increase in the combined number of seats of the LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s largest opposition party, to more than 80 percent of all Diet seats. The DPJ also supports constitutional revision.

Opinion polls conducted by media outlets suggest that the public increasingly supports changing the Constitution. But a closer look at their reasons for support reveals the changes they want are extremely wide-ranging, from revising the preamble and war-renouncing Article 9 — one of the major points of contention — to the creation of environmental and privacy protection rights.