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Lower House OKs referendum bill

Revision to amendment rules puts Constitution in Abe's sights

Kyodo

The House of Representatives on Friday approved a bill to revise the national referendum law, effectively taking a step toward revising the pacifist Constitution.

In a move reflecting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agenda, the Lower House voted to change the rules under the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan.

This includes lowering the voting age to 18 from 20 four years after the revision takes effect.

The bill, which is now subject to deliberations in the House of Councillors, is expected to become law before the Diet closes on June 22.

A proposal for revising the Constitution can be initiated with the support of at least two-thirds of the lawmakers in both houses and must be endorsed by a majority in a referendum.

The bill was endorsed Friday by many opposition parties and the ruling coalition led by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. But the issue of amending the Constitution, which has never been revised since its promulgation in 1946, remains a source of conflict between parties, largely due to Abe’s political stance.

Abe has expressed his desire to revise the supreme law partly to bolster Japan’s defense capabilities — a goal in line with his separate attempts to relax Japan’s rules on arms exports — as well as to defend an ally under armed attack by changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.

While supported by some countries, including the United States, Abe’s efforts to get Japan more proactively involved in international operations to ensure peace and stability have aroused the concerns of Asian neighbors such as China and South Korea, which got a direct taste of Imperial Japan’s wartime aggression.

The referendum law, enacted in 2007 under Abe’s first administration, required the Diet to take more steps to lower the voting age before its 2010 enactment. But it did not happen.

The revision bill also focuses on letting most public servants to engage in organizational campaigning to rally support for or opposition to a proposed constitutional revision.

The provision excludes judges and police officers, whom it regards as being required to be politically neutral.

The additional clause says the Diet will separately consider rules on organizational campaigning, apparently reflecting the LDP’s cautiousness about the prospects of civil servants’ labor unions protesting constitutional revision bids.

The clause also says the Diet will study whether Japan can hold referendums on issues other than constitutional amendment.

A total of eight parties, including both ruling and opposition parties, separately agreed to take legislative steps within two years of the enactment of the revised law, in order to lower the minimum voting age for public elections from 20 to 18, which is stipulated by another law.