Upcoming election’s critical issue

Although candidates’ campaigns for the July 21 Upper House election are not scheduled to officially start until July 4, political parties have begun presenting their campaign promises as the Diet session ended Wednesday. Among the important issues at stake in this election is an attempt at constitutional revision by some parties.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long called for the weakening of Article 96, which is designed to prevent an imprudent revision of the Constitution.

Since public surveys have shown that a majority of people oppose such a move, Mr. Abe these days have played down his call for revision. But the Liberal Democratic Party in April last year announced its draft revisions of the Constitution, including Article 96, and they feature in the party’s campaign promises.

According to Article 96, 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, then submitted to the people for ratification by an affirmative vote of the majority of all votes cast at a special referendum.

The LDP wants to weaken the article so that amendments to the Constitution can be initiated with a concurring vote of a simple majority in each House. The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party also call for this revision. If the LDP and the JRP capture a two-thirds majority of the Upper House seats in the July 21 election, the possibility will become greater that the Diet will initiate efforts to change Article 96, since they together now have more than two-thirds of the Lower House seats.

Voters should be aware that a weakening of Article 96 could undermine the foundation of constitutional democracy because it would become easier to gut important principles of the Constitution and the basic human rights guaranteed by it.

These include the principle that sovereignty rests with the people; the no-war principle; freedom of thought, speech and expression; freedom of assembly and association; and freedom from arbitrary arrests.

In addition, because constitutional revisions would become much easier, the Constitution will be downgraded to almost the same level as ordinary laws.

It is likely that the LDP, Your Party and the JRP will not talk much about constitutional revisions in their campaigns and instead focus on other issues, such as how to revive the Japanese economy, the government’s plan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade scheme, and whether nuclear power plants should be restarted.

But the fact remains that their election campaign platform includes the aim of revising Article 96. Voters should not forget that the coming election is a battle between forces calling for the weakening of Article 96 and those that oppose it.