Groups for and against revision of the Constitution held rallies in Tokyo on Thursday to mark the 54th anniversary of the supreme law amid increasing calls for its revision from political leaders, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Leaders of the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party stated firmly during a gathering at Hibiya Kokaido hall in Tokyo that the parties are determined to protect the current pacifist Constitution.
It was the first time leaders of the two leftwing parties appeared at the same gathering on Constitution Day, despite their similar positions on the nation’s supreme charter.
It is believed their joint efforts reflect their growing concern that Koizumi, the enormously popular new prime minister, supports its revision.
JCP leader Kazuo Shii told some 4,000 people at the hall that he is concerned about Koizumi’s comments that he wants to revise the Constitution to accommodate those who want to devote their lives to the nation in the event of an emergency.
“It is serious that Koizumi mentioned the right to collective defense and amending Article 9 together,” Shii said, adding that he doubts whether Koizumi really understands what he was talking about.
Upon his victory in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election last week, Koizumi said he wants the Constitution to be revised and specifically cited Article 9, which renounces the maintenance of “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential.”
Revisionist groups marked the day by claiming that public calls for changes to the Constitution are continuing to grow.
About 1,100 people attended a symposium in Tokyo’s Hirakawa-cho district sponsored by the Nippon Kaigi (Japan National Conference), a group of rightwing academics and politicians.
Shiro Odamura, vice president of the conference and president of Takushoku University in Tokyo, started the gathering by reiterating the group’s longtime stance that the current Constitution was forced upon Japan by the occupation forces after World War II and that the nation needs its own Constitution.
LDP lawmakers, members of coalition ally the Liberal Party, as well as representatives of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan also attended the gathering at Sabo Kaikan hall. The lawmakers were united in calling for a new Constitution, saying a uniquely Japanese Constitution should form the cornerstone of the nation’s identity.
They said the new Constitution should outline the course the nation should take and present a national identity that the public can rally around.
Former Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka, an LDP lawmaker, emphasized the need to stipulate in the Constitution the right to collective defense, as well as recognition of the Self-Defense Forces.
He attended the gathering on behalf of LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki, who is a former leader of the faction Yasuoka belongs to.
Another rightwing gathering at Chiyoda Ward’s Kokaido hall in Tokyo, organized by the People’s Rally to Create a New Constitution, echoed calls for a new Constitution.
Former Environment Minister Minoru Ueda said a majority of the public at least support constitutional revision, citing a daily’s recent public opinion poll that found some 70 percent of respondents supported amendment.
Former Justice Minister Shigeto Nagano said their longtime activities to realize amendment had not been well supported by the public.
“But thanks to Prime Minister Koizumi, it is now time for us to appeal to the wider public,” he told the crowd.
Koizumi’s clear-cut statement on the sensitive issue has drawn a range of reactions from across the country, which has not revised the Constitution since it took effect on May 3, 1947. The anniversary is a national holiday.
Article 9 stipulates, “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
It also says, “In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
It has long been disputed whether the text of the Constitution actually allows for the existence of the SDF, which have 260,000 service members, 1,000 tanks, 16 submarines, advanced warships and more than 300 fighter planes.
“It is unnatural that the SDF cannot be called a military force (because of Article 9),” Koizumi told reporters immediately after becoming LDP chief.
In his first news conference after being sworn in as prime minister a week ago, Koizumi also said he would pursue constitutional revision focusing solely on his pet proposal to elect the prime minister by popular vote.
Lawmakers attending the rightwing group’s gathering, except Satoshi Shima from the DPJ, opposed its introduction and expressed concerns, including fears over the potential conflict with the status of the Emperor as head of state.
In response, SDP leader Doi criticized Koizumi, saying he wants to revise the Constitution starting with the least-contested issue.
“Some of you may think it is better to elect the prime minister by popular vote. However, it would not be so easy. We have to revise many basic parts of the Constitution (to realize the popular vote),” she said.
Article 67 of the Constitution says the prime minister shall be designated from among members of the Diet in a vote.
Machiko Omata, a member of a citizens group based in Komae, western Tokyo, that advocates promoting the spirit of the pacifist Constitution, told the Hibiya Kokaido hall gathering that discussions at the Diet to review the Constitution were low key.
She made the comments based on her observations of recent parliamentary discussions of the Research Commission on the Constitution.
“I was very surprised to listen to the discussions of the panel,” she said. “Those who attended the discussion from the beginning to end were only a few members of the opposition parties. The remaining members often came in and out, and most of the time, less than half of the 50 members attended the session.
“I saw no serious, heated debate was taking place there between those who support the revision and others who oppose it,” she said, adding she wants the public to know the real situation surrounding the issue.
In a statement released for Constitution Day, Taro Nakayama, chief of the Lower House panel on constitutional review, said popular election of the prime minister is “a matter that requires urgent discussion.”
However, the political community remains undecided on the issue. New Komeito, one of the LDP’s coalition partners, is alarmed by Koizumi’s straightforward remarks about amending the Constitution.
New Komeito said in a statement released on its anniversary, “We cannot ignore recent moves among some Japanese excessively emphasizing the importance of ‘state.’ People should praise how much the Constitution has contributed to the peace and security of postwar Japan.”
While the SDP and the JCP say they remain committed to preserving the postwar Constitution and criticize Koizumi for his “hawkish” inclinations, the DPJ, the largest opposition force, appears to be split over the issue.
A DPJ statement is vague on whether it supports an amendment, saying, “Remembering the magnitude of the Constitution, we reconfirm the need for consistent discussions on it for a new era.”
To amend the Constitution, more than two-thirds of all national lawmakers in the 480-seat House of Representatives and the 252-seat House of Councilors must support the move in a special vote.
The Constitution would then be revised if the majority of the public expressed approval “in a special referendum or by such an election as the Diet shall specify.”
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