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Political parties gear up for constitutional showdown

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The opposition parties capitalized on Constitution Day Friday to express skepticism about the wisdom of revising the pacifist charter, while the ruling Liberal Democratic Party tried to build momentum to significantly rewrite it.

This year marks the document’s 66th anniversary.

The LDP issued a statement claiming constitutional change is inevitable. “The issue is no longer whether we should change the Constitution,” it says. “We are at the stage of mulling how to revise it.”

Drafting its own Constitution has been a goal of the LDP since its inception in 1955. The party says the current charter, drafted under the supervision of the U.S.-led Allies, does not reflect the will of the Japanese people and drafted a new version last year.

In its campaign for the Upper House election this summer, the LDP intends to pledge that it will amend Article 96 to make it easier to launch constitutional revisions.

Under Article 96, changes to the Constitution must be approved by at least two-thirds of both Diet houses and then a majority of voters in a national referendum.

The LDP aims to pare the requirement to just a simple majority of lawmakers in each chamber.

And yet the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, is a strong supporter of the pacifist Constitution. It has challenged the LDP’s position, warning that due caution is needed when discussing Article 96.

Referring to the high standard it sets for constitutional revisions, New Komeito released a statement saying “the current requirement makes sense as it protects people’s human rights from the government.”

“We should have more comprehensive discussion as to what we should revise, including the two-thirds requirement,” said the party, which is backed by the lay-Buddhist group Soka Gakkai.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan says that a broader public discussion is needed before the requirement can be eased, because revising it could pave the way for amending war-renouncing Article 9.

LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said Tuesday that the second paragraph of Article 9, which prohibits Japan from having a military and states that “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized,” should be dropped as it could be interpreted as meaning the existence of the Self-Defense Forces is illegal.

Other parties that want to keep the charter unchanged are the Social Democratic Party and Japanese Communist Party. Both have criticized Abe’s motives.

But Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) has been advocating robust discussions about constitutional change as it pursues a partnership with the LDP.

“The current Constitution was forced (on Japan) by the Allies and does not reflect Japanese culture or history, nor can it deal with the many challenges that surround Japan,” a Nippon Ishin statement said.