The Japanese Communist Party has adopted a proposal to revise its pro-Marxist-Leninist constitution, which is more than four decades old.

The change, which also calls for temporarily recognizing the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, is aimed at giving the party greater flexibility in its policies to regain public confidence, which had eroded in June in the latest general election.

More ambitiously, the JCP hopes the move will lead to a place in a coalition government early in the 21st century.

But other opposition parties, with which the JCP hopes to establish a coalition government, have reacted coolly to the proposal. Officials of the ruling coalition meanwhile have expressed distrust, saying the constitutional change is no more than a gimmick to win back voters.

Tetsuzo Fuwa, chairman of the JCP Presidium, put forth the proposal at the seventh Central Committee Plenum of the party held at its headquarters in Tokyo on Sept. 19. The measure was adopted a day later, paving the way for it to become the first revision to the JCP charter since it was adopted in July 1958.

The revision is expected to be officially approved at the 22nd party convention in November.

While calling for temporary recognition of the SDF, which the JCP has regarded as unconstitutional, the proposal also drops a preamble calling the party “the vanguard political party of the Japanese working class” and upholding Marxism-Leninism, which it calls “scientific socialism.”

It also calls for elimination of the words “socialist revolution” from the preamble, and instead inserts a new clause that states the JCP is “the political party of the Japanese working class” and at the same time “a political party of the Japanese people.”

The proposed revision is in line with a resolution approved at the 21st party convention in 1997 calling for a “government of democratic alliances” to be established.

With its new, softer image, the JCP won 15 seats in a 252-member House of Councilors election in 1998 — the largest number yet for the party in the chamber. The JCP has since taken a more flexible stance on key issues, including the emperor system and the SDF.

In the election for the House of Representatives in June, the ruling bloc — the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and New Conservative Party — launched a fierce attack on the JCP.

The Democratic Party of Japan also gave the JCP the cold shoulder. Unless the party changes its constitution, officials of the biggest opposition party said, the formation of a coalition government by the current opposition parties would prove difficult.

As a result of this kind of public criticism, the JCP lost six seats in the lower chamber. It now has 20.

Political pundits say the JCP’s proposed constitutional revision is being done to curry the DPJ’s favor. DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama, however, appears less than enthusiastic with the move.

“The JCP may want to turn itself into a realistic political party, but we must keep a close watch on it,” he said.

Other opposition parties are also taking a wait-and-see attitude.

LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka said, “The JCP is trying to disguise itself as a new people’s party. Nothing fundamental will be changed through a mere revision in the constitution.”

Another LDP executive called the JCP’s plan “a disguise solely aimed at wining back voters. Its communist philosophy and closed nature remain unchanged.”

Political analysts say another aim of the JCP is to strengthen the party’s organization. Its membership of half a million people a decade ago has dropped to 380,000. Subscribers to the official party newspaper, Shimbun Akahata (Red Flag), now number 1.97 million, down from 3 million 10 years ago.

“Having fewer than 2 million subscribers is an extremely serious situation” for the party with a House of Councilors election only 10 months away, a JCP official said.

According to sources close to the JCP, many party members remain frustrated over a lack of discussion on the constitutional revision.

“I wonder if it is meaningful to try to form a coalition government by drastically changing our policy line,” a senior party official said.

JCP secretariat chief Kazuo Shii told a news conference, “Discussions have yet to boil down” to the point of fixing the date for the actual revision of the charter.

The comment indicates that many difficulties remain ahead before the party can fully transform itself.

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