The July 21 Upper House election is the first postwar national election in which constitutional revisions have become a real issue. Three parties — the Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party — call for constitutional revisions, especially the weakening of Article 96, an article designed to prevent imprudent changes to the Constitution.
These parties say that Article 96 should be changed so that amendments could be initiated with a concurring vote of a simple majority of all the members of each House of the Diet, instead of the two-thirds or more required at present. Ratification of an amendment requires the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast at a special national referendum.
Although changes to the Constitution, including a revision of the war-renouncing Article 9, will greatly alter the shape of the nation, it appears that the issue is not getting much attention from voters and that they are mainly interested in the nation’s economic recovery. This is a deplorable situation, and the one mainly responsible for it is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Although Mr. Abe strongly believes in changing Article 9 — the LDP’s draft revisions of the Constitution gut Article 9 and restrict people’s basic rights — he now refrains from talking about constitutional revisions in concrete terms.
For a period of time, Mr. Abe vociferously repeated that a push to weaken Article 96 must come before other constitutional revisions. That’s a dangerous move as it could pave the way for undermining basic and important tenets of the Constitution such as the principle that sovereignty rests with the people; the no-war principle; freedom of thought, speech and expression; and freedom of assembly and association. He added that his proposal concerning Article 96 should be the main issue in the Upper House election.
But in the election campaign, Mr. Abe only talks about constitutional revisions in general terms, stressing the need to revise the Constitution to make Japan a “proud nation,” and does not express his idea to revise Article 96 before carrying out other constitutional revisions. This is apparently because he encountered fairly strong opposition from people to the idea of weakening Article 96. It would not be unreasonable to suspect that he has changed his election strategy but is hiding his true intentions.
The fact remains that the LDP’s election promise refers to its draft revisions of the Constitution and includes a specific call for weakening Article 96, along with calls for revising the war-renouncing Article 9 and empowering the Cabinet to issue decrees that have the same power as laws during an emergency.
If the LDP and other forces calling for constitutional revisions win two-thirds or more of the Upper House seats in the July 21 election — these forces already control more than two-thirds of the Lower House — Mr. Abe may push preparations for constitutional revisions. This is appalling because he has not explained in the election campaign what he thinks is wrong with the present Constitution and which parts of the LDP’s draft revisions he will back at any cost. He must clear up these points immediately so that voters can make informed decisions.