The Lower House Constitutional Research Panel held its first free discussion session Thursday, with political parties sharply divided over Article 9 of the postwar Constitution.

During the session, some lawmakers also proposed spelling out new concepts in the Constitution such as people’s environmental rights.

The three-hour session was held ahead of Constitution Day on May 3.

Conservative lawmakers such as Hiroshi Mitsuzuka of the Liberal Democratic Party insisted that the nation’s right to self-defense be clearly spelled out in Article 9 of the Constitution, which currently prohibits Japan from having military forces.

Rikukai Sasaki of the Japanese Communist Party, however, said his party will firmly oppose any change to the Constitution.

He urged that instead of thinking about rewriting the pioneering “pacifist” law, Japan should sever its security arrangement with the United States and seek ways to coexist with its Asian neighbors.

Members of the LDP, the Democratic Party of Japan, the New Conservative Party and the Liberal Party were in favor of revising part of the 53-year-old supreme code, while the JCP and the Social Democratic Party insisted that the Constitution remain untouched.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister and LDP leader, urged the panel to complete preliminary studies on the current Constitution within two years. and then begin discussing in detail which articles should be amended.

“We wrote the Imperial Constitution in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and adopted the Constitution of the Occupation Forces in the Showa Era (1926-1989),” Nakasone said. “In the next century, we need to write a new Constitution for the sake of our people.”

The DPJ’s Shigefumi Matsunaga suggested adding new concepts to the Constitution, including the introduction of public elections to select the prime minister.

Electoral law reform

An Upper House committee on Thursday passed by a majority vote a revised bill to counteract deficiencies in the current electoral system.

The six-point bill, which was initially designed to improve the Lower House electoral system, has been revised to have two of the proposed reforms apply to Upper House elections.

The two are:

* a provision calling for holding by-elections only twice a year;

* and a ban on individuals who have resigned from the Diet and those running in a gubernatorial or municipal election from becoming candidates in a by-election for a Diet seat.

The four other provisions that apply only to the Lower House electoral system include a ban on the election of lawmakers to proportional representation seats if they run in the same election in a single-seat constituency and fail to win 10 percent of the vote there.

The bill, which will revise the Public Offices Election Law and the Diet Law, is expected to clear the full Upper House today. It will be then sent back to the Lower House for approval because of revisions made in the Upper House. The enactment of the law is expected on May 9, in time for the upcoming general election.