A House of Representatives committee charged with reviewing the Constitution for possible amendment submitted an interim report Friday listing the outcome of its discussions.
The 706-page report is the culmination of nearly three years of discussions by the Research Commission on the Constitution, which is charged with debating the politically sensitive issue of constitutional amendment. The report was submitted to Lower House Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki.
The committee is expected to submit its final report by 2005. But it is expected to be a long, hard road as many lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition parties are cautious about making any changes to the Constitution.
Some committee members praised the war-renouncing Article 9, which bans Japan from holding any military potential, adding that the idea of collective defense is an infringement of the Constitution, according to the report.
Other members meanwhile said the clause has become unrealistic given the recent terrorist attacks throughout the world and that Japan should be able to engage in collective defense, the report says.
Some pointed out that the existence of the Self-Defense Forces could be viewed as unconstitutional and asked that a revision be made to give the SDF legal standing, the report says.
Most committee members are aware that concepts of rights have evolved and now include, for example, the right to privacy and to a clean environment, but opinions were split over the necessity of clearly defining these rights in the Constitution, according to the report.
The majority of committee members are against giving the public the right to elect a prime minister by popular vote — an idea supported by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The polarity of the debate regarding constitutional amendments, particularly regarding Article 9, was reflected in the committee’s vote Friday on whether to release the report. The report’s release was endorsed by the ruling coalition parties, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party, which hold the majority. The Social Democratic Party, which for decades has vowed to protect the Constitution, and the Japanese Communist Party, voted against its release.
The Constitution took effect in May 1947 and has never been revised. Discussing amendments has long been considered taboo as some fear such moves could lead to a revision of Article 9.
The various parties are taking different positions regarding the possibility of revising the Constitution. The opposition DPJ is calling for a thorough debate on the matter, while New Komeito, a junior partner in the LDP-led coalition, claims environmental and privacy rights should be added to the charter.
In January 2000, both Diet chambers formed research panels to discuss constitutional revision, marking the first time lawmakers have agreed to discuss the charter in the legislature.
The government established a similar constitutional study panel within the Cabinet in 1957.
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