Deviating from its economic agenda, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday called for revising the Constitution to designate the Emperor as “head of state” instead of “symbol of the state” — a move that would end his figurehead status and possibly give him actual political and government-related powers.
The opposition parties Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party backed the LDP’s call in the Lower House committee on constitutional revision, which was holding its first meeting since the LDP returned to power last December.
The three parties also agreed in principle at the meeting that Japan should be allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defense, which is limited by the war-renouncing Article 9.
The LDP, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is eager to alter the Constitution, contends the stipulation about the Emperor should be changed because “it is an undeniable fact” that the Emperor is the head of state, even though the Constitution clearly strips him of most powers enjoyed by other monarchs.
But the main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan, and the ruling LDP’s Buddhist-backed coalition partner, New Komeito, oppose the revision, noting the current wording, forged in the aftermath of a Shinto-inspired war in which the Emperor enjoyed divine status, did not pose any “inconvenience.”
Article 1 of the first chapter of the Constitution, which took force in May 1947, states, “The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.”
In its April 2012 revision proposals, the LDP used the phrase “head of state” along with “symbol of the state and the unity of the people.”
The committee began rethinking the Constitution in May 2012 but suspended talks last August after interparty squabbles broke out over the timing for dissolving the Lower House.