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BATTLE TO REVISE CONSTITUTION

Abe’s constitutional revision hopes ride on July election, right-leaning opposition cooperation

by

Staff Writer

Japan’s postwar pacifism will face a critical challenge this year that could drastically change the course of this country forever: the July Upper House election.

Right-leaning parties, most notably the ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will try to capture more than two-thirds of the 242-seat chamber in the election, and thus have the seats required to initiate a national referendum to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.

But which parties currently advocate constitutional revision? And how many seats are those parties likely to win in the election?

The following are questions and answers on the numbers in the election and the prospects for the political battle over the Constitution.

Why is the Upper House election regarded as critical to the fate of the Constitution?

Article 96 of the Constitution states that it can only be amended through a national referendum that is to be initiated by the Diet with support of two-thirds or more of all members of both the Lower and Upper houses.

Abe’s ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito now holds more than two-thirds of the 475-seat Lower House but doesn’t boast the same majority in the 242-seat Upper House.

Abe, who is still personally popular with voters thanks to his economic policies, is the first-ever prime minister to openly express a willingness to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Believing now is a golden opportunity, right-leaning politicians and activists have been campaigning to help the LDP win as many seats as possible in the Upper House election to gain the political momentum for constitutional change.

What chance does the ruling coalition have to win more than two-thirds of the 242-seat Upper House outright?

Many observers believe the chances are slim now based on the current support rate for Abe’s Cabinet and the LDP in media polls.

But together with other opposition forces that support revising Article 9, the coalition might altogether win more than two-thirds of the chamber, they said.

Every three years, half of the 242 Upper House seats are contested in a summer election. Currently, the LDP holds 115 seats and Komeito 20, which adds up to 135 seats, including that of Upper House President and LDP member Masaaki Yamazaki. Of those, 76 LDP and Komeito members are not facing re-election in the summer poll.

This means the LDP-Komeito coalition needs to win 86 seats to occupy more than two-thirds — or 162 seats or more — of the chamber.

This hurdle seems to be rather high when compared with the results of the 2013 Upper House poll. Back then, the LDP-Komeito coalition enjoyed a victory by winning 76 seats in total. At that time, the support rate for Abe’s Cabinet stood at 57 percent and that of the LDP was 42.4 percent, according to a poll conducted by NHK shortly before the election.

The latest NHK poll in December showed the support rate for Abe’s Cabinet stood at 46 percent in December, and that for the LDP was 37.5 percent. This may be why Abe is desperately trying to focus on economic issues to keep voters happy ahead of the election, while maintaining a low-profile on other contentious issues that could dent his popularity.

Will any opposition parties cooperate with the LDP on the Constitution revision?

How those parties fare in the July poll may be key to whether they can help Abe accomplish his referendum goal.

In the Upper House there are three minor parties willing to revise some articles of the Constitution, possibly including Article 9.

They are Osaka Ishin no Kai, which now has seven Upper House members; Nippon wo Genki ni Suru Kai (The Assembly to Energize Japan ) with six and Nihon no Kokoro wo Taisetsu ni suru To (Party for Japanese Kokoro) with four, making up 17 seats altogether.

“If you add those parties (to the ruling bloc), (the pro-revision) forces could occupy more than two-thirds in total, which would open the way for constitutional revision,” said Koji Nakakita, professor of politics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

Will revising Article 9 be a focal issue in the July poll campaigns?

This remains to be seen, as the situation is a complex one.

To revise the Constitution, it is necessary to gain a majority of all votes cast for the national referendum, but various polls have suggested most voters oppose changing the charter.

A poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun taken in March suggested 60 percent of respondents want Article 9 left as is, while only 35 percent said it should be revised. This ratio has not changed significantly in the past decade.

Pro-revision lawmakers say they will first advocate revising other articles in a bid to remove the psychological barrier for amending the 69-year-old Constitution, which has remained intact since its promulgation in November 1946.

When it comes to revising the Constitution, rather than trying to revise Article 9, LDP lawmakers have suggested the party first propose creating a new article to give the prime minister extraordinary powers in emergencies.

Komeito is likely to agree to that revision, although the party is reluctant to support the LDP’s drive to rewrite Article 9.

The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties, however, would oppose any revision of the Constitution, believing it could be a Trojan horse to open the way for revising Article 9.

  • Stephen Kent

    This article states that Mr. Abe “is still personally popular with voters thanks to his economic policies,” but I would argue that he is still popular with voters despite these policies. The absence of a coherent, feasible opposition benefits Mr. Abe when it comes to approval ratings, I feel, as the subjects of any poll don’t really have a definite alternative to compare him or his government’s policies to, and thus there is a kind of apathy and resignation hanging over the Japanese electorate that results in people just “going with the flow” whenever a poll is conducted or an election takes place (if they even to vote anymore, that is). This apathy and resignation produces some head-scratching results sometimes, and indeed, when a poll was taken in October 2014 by the Nikkei Shinbun, it showed that the approval rate of Abe’s second cabinet was somehow more popular than any of its policies!

    So basically, whenever he wants to pursue one of his pet projects that doesn’t happen to be high on the list of voters’ priorities (such as reinterpreting the Constitution or rewriting it), all Mr. Abe has to do is build up a sufficient buffer of political capital for himself and his cabinet by electrocuting the corpse of the Japanese economy for a while to make it jiggle around a bit so everyone thinks it’s coming back to life, make speeches about “Abenomics” and all its dynamic imagery of firing arrows (is it three or six now?), and sit back and watch the economic indicators show a temporary uptick. Then, after the electricity is turned off and everything goes back to being as dead as it has been for the past couple of decades, he is left with the requisite popularity to go off the leash for a while and do as he pleases.

    Whether the Constitution should be revised or not is a legitimate topic for discussion, but the fact that it’s Mr. Abe who is trying to initiate the process that should be worrying for Japanese citizens. He is quite clearly a man with authoritarian tendencies who has a rigid, backwards looking view of Japan, and has no vision for what a Japan of the future might look like or how to deal with any of the actual problems the country faces. I definitely wouldn’t buy a new Constitution from that man.

  • Stephen Kent

    This article states that Mr. Abe “is still personally popular with voters thanks to his economic policies,” but I would argue that he is still popular with voters despite these policies. The absence of a coherent, feasible opposition benefits Mr. Abe when it comes to approval ratings, I feel, as the subjects of any poll don’t really have a definite alternative to compare him or his government’s policies to, and thus there is a kind of apathy and resignation hanging over the Japanese electorate that results in people just “going with the flow” whenever a poll is conducted or an election takes place (if they even to vote anymore, that is). This apathy and resignation produces some head-scratching results sometimes, and indeed, when a poll was taken in October 2014 by the Nikkei Shinbun, it showed that the approval rate of Abe’s second cabinet was somehow more popular than any of its policies!

    So basically, whenever he wants to pursue one of his pet projects that doesn’t happen to be high on the list of voters’ priorities (such as reinterpreting the Constitution or rewriting it), all Mr. Abe has to do is build up a sufficient buffer of political capital for himself and his cabinet by electrocuting the corpse of the Japanese economy for a while to make it jiggle around a bit so everyone thinks it’s coming back to life, make speeches about “Abenomics” and all its dynamic imagery of firing arrows (is it three or six now?), and sit back and watch the economic indicators show a temporary uptick. Then, after the electricity is turned off and everything goes back to being as dead as it has been for the past couple of decades, he is left with the requisite popularity to go off the leash for a while and do as he pleases.

    Whether the Constitution should be revised or not is a legitimate topic for discussion, but the fact that it’s Mr. Abe who is trying to initiate the process that should be worrying for Japanese citizens. He is quite clearly a man with authoritarian tendencies who has a rigid, backwards looking view of Japan, and has no vision for what a Japan of the future might look like or how to deal with any of the actual problems the country faces. I definitely wouldn’t buy a new Constitution from that man.

  • helen

    Abe, with US blessing and his Japanese neo-con, has been playing Kamikazi
    games. Everyone knows for a fact that Abe wanted to revive Japanese militarism and that he is a great fan of the Japanese Imperial Army of the yesteryears.

    And everyone knows Abe is going through the motion/pretexts for Japan to go nuclear. Japan can go nuclear within 6 months from the word ‘GO’..Of course it’s their sovereign right just as it is N Korea’s!. And Abe would find one final ‘excuse’ to do that. Like it or not, Asian countries are already prepared for a nuclear Japan.

    The crux of the matter is: What is the point of Japan going nuclear?

    The Japanese were militarily superior during the 1st and 2nd World Wars when Asian countries were poor, foreign exploited, weak and militarily zero for what it was worth. Japan then was the most developed country in Asia then.

    Times have changed.

    We are now in the nuclear age.

    And in a nuclear confrontation, most countries including its ‘friend’ the United States would be nuking Japan and the entire Japanese race could be wiped off from the face of the earth. Of course too, the Japanese militarists, irrespective of Japanese political control, would also plan to nuke at least two US cities (Washington, New York, San Francisco — take your pick) as blood debt for US’s nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the 2nd World war. That’s the foregone conclusion of a nuclear Japan.

    So, Abe what is your point?

    We all know you are just going through the motion of enabling Japan to go nuclear. This time round, there may not be a Japanese race any more.

    And the United States?

    In this nuclear age and time, the first rule of nuclear warfare is this:-

    ” 打 狗, 必 须 打 主 人”

    “When you hit the dogs, you must simultaneously hit their Master”

    – a message hard to swallow by Washington and their Pentagon!

    Just as in another scenario where a nuclear war between NATO and Russia is automatically a SIMULTANEOUS nuclear war between Russia and the United States. The same applies to the Asia Pacific region.

    • http://lesstalkmoreactivism.blogspot.com/ Canaan

      Everyone does not know for a fact that Abe wants to revive the old militarism — because it is not a fact. It’s not even plausible.

      Politics are relative to the nation. Abe is right wing by Japan standards, not by American standards. He is nothing like an American NeoCon.

      Japan’s constitution is highly evolved and highly civilized. It currently makes something dumb and crazy like America’s Iraq Invasion legally impossible. It’s unfortunate that the change in the balance of power in Asia might make it necessary for Japan to take a step backwards as the avante garde of the Great Powers.

      But Abe recognizing the changed geostrategic equation for Japan does not make him a Neocon.

  • helen

    Abe, with US blessing and his Japanese neo-con, has been playing Kamikazi
    games. Everyone knows for a fact that Abe wanted to revive Japanese militarism and that he is a great fan of the Japanese Imperial Army of the yesteryears.

    And everyone knows Abe is going through the motion/pretexts for Japan to go nuclear. Japan can go nuclear within 6 months from the word ‘GO’..Of course it’s their sovereign right just as it is N Korea’s!. And Abe would find one final ‘excuse’ to do that. Like it or not, Asian countries are already prepared for a nuclear Japan.

    The crux of the matter is: What is the point of Japan going nuclear?

    The Japanese were militarily superior during the 1st and 2nd World Wars when Asian countries were poor, foreign exploited, weak and militarily zero for what it was worth. Japan then was the most developed country in Asia then.

    Times have changed.

    We are now in the nuclear age.

    And in a nuclear confrontation, most countries including its ‘friend’ the United States would be nuking Japan and the entire Japanese race could be wiped off from the face of the earth. Of course too, the Japanese militarists, irrespective of Japanese political control, would also plan to nuke at least two US cities (Washington, New York, San Francisco — take your pick) as blood debt for US’s nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the 2nd World war. That’s the foregone conclusion of a nuclear Japan.

    So, Abe what is your point?

    We all know you are just going through the motion of enabling Japan to go nuclear. This time round, there may not be a Japanese race any more.

    And the United States?

    In this nuclear age and time, the first rule of nuclear warfare is this:-

    ” 打 狗, 必 须 打 主 人”

    “When you hit the dogs, you must simultaneously hit their Master”

    – a message hard to swallow by Washington and their Pentagon!

    Just as in another scenario where a nuclear war between NATO and Russia is automatically a SIMULTANEOUS nuclear war between Russia and the United States. The same applies to the Asia Pacific region.