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All four candidates in the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election said Sunday that Japan should be able to exercise the right of collective defense, a controversial issue related to the war-renouncing Constitution.

Under the government’s current interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution, Japan “cannot exercise” the right of collective defense because the article bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

“It would be better to do so in the future,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said during a debate on Fuji TV when asked if the Constitution should be amended so Japan can exercise this right.

“If we were to allow exercising the right of collective defense, we should do so by revising the Constitution,” Koizumi said.

The prime minister has said on several occasions that the LDP should come up with a blueprint for revising the Constitution in November 2005, when the party marks its 50th anniversary. He said again Sunday that the LDP should call a “national debate” on constitutional revisions.

Shizuka Kamei, a former LDP policy chief and one of Koizumi’s opponents, said exercising the right of collective defense, or the right to use military force to defend an ally, can be done without amending Article 9. Instead, he said, the government can change its interpretation of the article.

Takao Fujii and Masahiko Komura, the other two candidates, said Article 9 should be revised.

Meanwhile, Koizumi stressed that Japan will decide on its own when to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces personnel to Iraq and what they should do to help with reconstruction there.

“The United States is not telling us to immediately send the SDF,” the prime minister said, referring to the widely held view that President George W. Bush will push Japan on sending SDF units when he visits Japan on Oct. 17.

“I will be talking with President Bush,” Koizumi said, demonstrating his confidence that he will be re-elected LDP president and thus still be prime minister in October. “I know that President Bush will not tell us to do this or do that. . . . I have repeatedly said we decide for ourselves what we do.”

On a TV Asahi talk show later in the day, Koizumi stressed that he will tell Bush the U.S. “should be flexible” about calls from France and Germany that the United Nations should take the lead in governing Iraq.

“The United States should gain the understanding of France and Germany and try to build a framework for international cooperation,” he said.