Although Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe became prime minister Wednesday, the public remains split over his stance toward amending the nation’s pacifist Constitution.
Abe has stated his desire to revise Article 96, which stipulates that constitutional amendments “shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each house and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification.” This is required to secure “the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast” in a referendum concerning an amendment.
The LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito, already hold more than two-thirds of the 480 seats in the House of Representatives following the Dec. 16 election, but Abe is seen as unlikely to push this agenda in the coming months because of next summer’s Upper House poll.
Still, with moves toward amending the Constitution expected to accelerate, experts have welcomed Abe’s plan as a first step on the path to Japan becoming more of a normal nation, in which its military forces, already high-level, can be deemed as such.
“It’s important to first make the Self-Defense Forces a (regularly designated) military,” said Akira Momochi, a Nihon University professor who is a senior member of the Japan Conference, a private organization lobbying for constitutional amendment. “It’s a necessity in becoming a normal state.”
Sae Uenaka, head of the ivote student organization that encourages young voters to go to the polls, said, “It’s unnatural we haven’t amended the Constitution all these years.” The Constitution came into effect in 1947.
But Uenaka also said some ivote members are already making casual remarks expressing worry they could be drafted if Abe’s drive to remodel the SDF into a standard military succeeds.
Groups that oppose revising the Constitution have also raised concerns, with Yoichi Komori, a University of Tokyo professor and executive officer of the Article 9 Association, saying the nation is reaching a “critical point.”
Article 9 says the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes,” and that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
“(Abe) is hiding the true intent of amending the war-renouncing Article 9,” Komori said. “Other countries trust Japan because we have Article 9. We plan to promote grassroots activities to protect the Constitution.”
Masahiro Ueda, 78, who has taken part in antinuclear demonstrations since last year’s meltdowns, said he fears the government may as a first step try to amend the Constitution to limit the freedom of assembly.