Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party are stepping up a call for changing Article 96 of the Constitution, a clause designed to prevent an imprudent revision of the Constitution.
Their call shows that either they do not understand or they are deliberately ignoring the fundamental principle of modern constitutional politics, which is that a constitution is an important mechanism to prevent the power of the government from subjecting people to arbitrary policies or autocratic rule.
Article 96 says that amendments to the Constitution must be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House, and then must be submitted to the people for ratification, which requires the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast at a special referendum. Mr. Abe and the LDP want to change the article so that amendments to the Constitution can be initiated with a concurring vote of a simple majority in each House.
Article 96 at present makes it difficult to change the Constitution. Its purpose is to prevent politicians and political parties from eliminating the Constitution’s most fundamental clause, which states that sovereignty rests with the people, and from weakening crucial constitutional rights — freedom of thought, speech and expression, the right to choose public officials, freedom of assembly and association, freedom from arbitrary arrests, etc.
The Japan Restoration Party supports the stance of Mr. Abe and the LDP on Article 96, and both parties are striving to win the coming Upper House election so that proconstitutional revision forces can win two-thirds or more of the Upper House seats to enable the Diet to initiate a revision of Article 96.
The current situation in which politicians and political parties are casually talking about changing Article 96 is highly dangerous. Citizens should be wary of the rhetoric and moves of these politicians and parties.
The argument that the Japanese Constitution is too difficult to revise is wrong. Constitutions of many developed countries including the United States include a mechanism that prevents haphazard constitutional revisions.
The LDP’s call for weakening Article 96 without officially making proposals in the Diet to change particular constitutional articles is just an act of public deception. The party’s draft constitution, which proposes changing the war-renouncing Article 9, enables Japan to deploy the “Defense Military” overseas for military actions almost without any restrictions. The draft also restricts freedom of assembly and association and freedom of speech and expression by prohibiting activities and organizations “that harm public interests and public order.” It even intrudes into the sphere of citizens’ private lives by saying that “family members must help each other.”
It cannot be emphasized too much that the LDP is trying to impose a constitution that runs counter to the principle of modern constitutional politics as well as postwar Japan’s no-war principle.