Public opposition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to overturn the ban on collective self-defense jumped to 55.4 percent from 48.1 percent last month, according to the latest survey.
In a nationwide telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News over the weekend, 57.7 percent of respondents said they are also against the Abe administration’s methods, which involve reinterpreting — rather than formally amending — the war-renouncing Constitution, while just 29.6 percent expressed support.
The survey also revealed that 62.1 percent of respondents were concerned the scope of Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense would expand once the ban is removed, and 74.1 percent said the ruling LDP-led coalition should not set a time frame to end discussions on the issue.
Abe is hoping to change the constitutional interpretation to enable the Self-Defense Forces to defend allies under armed attack in time for the planned revision by year-end of U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines.
For decades, the government has maintained that Japan possesses the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it due to limits imposed by Article 9 of the Constitution, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.
The survey showed 34.5 percent of respondents said they support the country exercising the right to collective self-defense, down from 39 percent in the previous month’s poll.
The approval rating for Abe’s Cabinet, meanwhile, slipped to 52.1 percent from 54.7 percent — the second-lowest rating received since his Cabinet took office in December 2012.
On the economic front, 36 percent of those polled backed the planned consumption tax hike to 10 percent from 8 percent in October next year, while 59.7 percent were opposed, up 3.1 points from the last survey.
As for the nation’s nuclear plants, which remain offline following the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis, 36.8 percent supported restarting them if their safety is confirmed, while 55.2 percent were opposed to reactivation.
The survey also showed a split on Pyongyang’s agreement to reinvestigate the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago, with 47.3 percent saying they expected the move to lead to a settlement of the issue and 50.8 percent expecting little from the probe.
The telephone survey covered 1,471 households with eligible voters, of whom 1,018 responded.
Despite the split in public opinion over collective self-defense, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, are likely to agree this week on a proposal to legalize the use of collective self-defense on a limited scale, a senior LDP official hinted.
In the meantime, the two parties plan to continue discussing a proposal to allow Japan to use force within “collective security” frameworks that are based on U.N. Security Council resolutions, the official said.
New Komeito, backed by the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, is opposed to both this idea and Abe’s ongoing push to reinterpret the Constitution for collective self-defense.
To increase pressure on New Komeito, the government plans to present the Cabinet’s final draft on changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution on Tuesday, when the parties meet to continue the ongoing security “gray zone” scenario talks.
The draft is being drawn up to expedite matters in case the coalition ever reaches a decision on collective self-defense, an issue so contentious it is being saved for last as the security talks drag on.
After that, each party will begin work to form an intraparty consensus.
If the two parties reach an agreement within the week, the government is expected to adopt the constitutional reinterpretation at a Cabinet meeting on July 1.
In an early draft of the Cabinet decision, the government stated that Japan will be allowed to exercise the right to collective self-defense when it is feared that Japanese people’s lives and liberty, as well as their right to pursue happiness, will be fundamentally altered by an armed attack on another country.
As New Komeito expressed concerns about the wording “it is feared,” saying this can vastly expand the scope of the self-defense justifications, the government is expected to drop the wording in the final draft and switch to a clearer phrase, such as “if there is an explicit danger,” instead.
Still, some within New Komeito are wary of allowing collective self-defense right even on a limited scale.