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LDP stronghold balks at Abe’s rush to revise Constitution

Kyodo

Calling the debate “hasty,” the Liberal Democratic Party’s members in Gifu Prefecture are asking the heads of municipal assemblies to call for a “careful discussion” of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to legalize Japan’s use of collective self-defense by reinterpreting the Constitution instead of amending it, sources said Sunday.

Senior members in the Gifu chapter, long an LDP stronghold, sent a letter last Tuesday to the chiefs of its 42 city, town and village assemblies asking them to adopt a statement seeking careful deliberation of the controversial matter.

The chapter’s members are worried that the debate being rushed by the Abe administration — despite its earlier assertions that it was willing to hold further talks into the summer if the Diet closes before an agreement can be reached — could negatively affect local elections due to be held nationwide next spring, the sources said.

Abe wants to change the interpretation of the pacifist Constitution to enable Japan to come to the defense of an ally under armed attack. Japan has long maintained that it possesses the right but cannot exercise it legally because war-renouncing Article 9 bans the use of force to settle international disputes.

The letter, signed by several senior members of the chapter, said the use of the right “is being studied in a hasty manner without undergoing enough discussions.” The government “should come to a conclusion after gaining public understanding,” the letter said.

A group of LDP members in the Gifu Prefectural Assembly also plans to propose that the assembly adopt a similar statement later this month.

On Saturday, Abe asserted that minesweeping in international sea lanes could be allowed under the new criteria on collective self-defense that the LDP unveiled on Friday.

Abe’s comment came a day after LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura disclosed, during talks with coalition partner New Komeito, three new conditions under which Japan would be allowed to exercise the right.

While those conditions were apparently aimed at forging a compromise, Saturday’s comment by Abe could harden resistance. New Komeito is opposed to exercising collective self-defense by reinterpretation and is particularly opposed to having Self-Defense Forces personnel engage in operations far from Japan.Taking part in minesweeping activities “should naturally be discussed (under the new criteria),” Abe said on a trip to Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, where he inspected economic revitalization efforts.

“Oil and food supply from overseas is vital for a resource-poor Japan.”

The participation of the SDF in multilateral minesweeping operations in international sea lanes was recently offered by Abe’s team as one specific scenario where security threats could be dealt with under collective self-defense. Securing stable imports is critical for Japan.

But New Komeito is concerned about taking part in such minesweeping operations for fear it that “could expand the SDF’s activities to the other side of the Earth,” a junior party member said.

Under the three criteria presented to New Komeito, Japan would be allowed to use collective self-defense if “the country’s existence, the lives of the people, their freedoms, and the right to seek happiness are feared to be profoundly threatened because of an armed attack on Japan or other countries.”

According to the second condition, no other appropriate means must exist to repel aggression and protect the rights of Japanese people, while the third requires the use of armed strength to be kept to the minimum necessary.

The ruling camp is expected to wrestle over the new criteria, with New Komeito labeling the proposal as “not satisfactory.”

LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba echoed Abe’s view on minesweeping operations on Saturday. Speaking to reporters in Hiroshima, Ishiba said he believes all of the scenarios for exercising collective self-defense could be dealt with under the three criteria.

The SDF could undertake operations, including minesweeping, “if the lives of the people are feared to be profoundly threatened (as set forth under the conditions),” Ishiba said.