Japanese sharply divided over revising Article 9 amid regional security threats, poll finds

Kyodo

The Japanese populace remains sharply divided over whether to amend the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, with supporters of a change slightly outnumbering opponents amid concerns over North Korea and China’s military buildup, a newly released Kyodo News survey showed.

According to the mail-in survey, which was conducted ahead of Wednesday’s 70th anniversary of the postwar Constitution’s enactment, 49 percent of respondents said Article 9 must be revised while 47 percent oppose such a change.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been eager to rewrite the supreme law, including Article 9, 51 percent were against any constitutional amendments under the Abe administration, compared with 45 percent in favor.

Many people recognized the role Article 9 has played in maintaining the nation’s pacifist stance, with 75 percent of respondents saying the clause has enabled the country to avoid becoming embroiled in conflicts abroad since World War II.

The survey, the results of which were released Saturday, randomly selected 3,000 people nationwide aged 18 and older, with questionnaires being sent to them by mail on March 8. Of those, 2,055 returned their answers by April 14, with valid responses obtained from 1,944 of the respondents.

The current Constitution has not been revised since going into effect in 1947, nor has a bid been made to initiate a formal amendment of the document, partly because of the high hurdles such a proposition would face in the Diet before it could be put to a referendum.

But a first-ever revision of the Constitution, which conservatives often decry as a product of the U.S.-led Occupation authorities that governed the country after the nation’s defeat in World War II, has become a more realistic prospect given the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition’s strength in the Diet.

Following a string of electoral victories over the past several years, Abe’s LDP and several other parties in favor of constitutional revision now have a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet, the threshold needed for making an amendment proposal.

Among those in favor of amending Article 9, the largest group, at 66 percent, cited “the changing security environment surrounding the country, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and China’s military expansion.”

The next largest group, at 20 percent, said a change is needed to sort out what they perceive as a contradiction between the provision and the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.

Article 9 stipulates that the Japanese people “forever renounce war” and that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” The government says the article does not prohibit the country from maintaining its ability to defend itself and thus allows it to possess defensive forces.

Ten percent called for a revision of Article 9 to enable the SDF to engage in international activities more actively, while 3 percent said such a revision is needed to strengthen the security alliance with the United States.

Asked how the article should be changed, 39 percent said the existence of the SDF should be stipulated, followed by 24 percent who proposed adding a clause to restrict the SDF’s international activities and 16 percent who said the SDF should be clearly stated as being a military force.

On the overall need to revise the Constitution in the future, 60 percent said it was “necessary” or “somewhat necessary.” The most popular reason given was that its articles and contents no longer fit the times. The subject deemed requiring discussion by most respondents was “Article 9 and the SDF.”

Supporters for keeping the current Constitution unchanged totaled 37 percent, with 46 percent of them citing its provision prohibiting war and keeping Japan out of conflicts as the reason why. Of those, 26 percent expressed concern that an amendment might lead Japan into a military buildup.

In a similar survey conducted by Kyodo News in last August and September, 49 percent denied the need to change Article 9, compared with 45 percent who were in favor of revision.

The Diet resumed in-depth discussions on constitutional issues last year, but progress has been slow as parties remain far apart in their positions.