Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Monday it would take about five years to revise the pacifist Constitution, a project the would-be prime minister has made a major pillar of his campaign platform.

“I know (the Constitution) cannot be revised in a couple of years,” he said. “I have to think about a time frame close to five years.”

Abe has said he would be the first prime minister to place a revision of the Constitution on the political road map. He has repeatedly stressed the need to change the Constitution, which was drafted during the postwar Occupation.

Changing the Constitution requires two-thirds support in both Diet chambers and a majority in a national referendum.

Meanwhile, Abe and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, both candidates in the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential race, clashed over whether a consumption tax hike is the way to get rid of the national debt.

Getting control of the ballooning debt is a major issue in the leadership race, which officially began Friday.

Debate on all the issues has so far been tepid.

The heated exchange came during a televised debate between the three candidates — including Foreign Minister Taro Aso — hosted by the Japan National Press Club.

Tanigaki criticized Abe, who is almost sure to win the Sept. 20 election, for saying discussions should begin next fall on overall tax reform, before the share of the basic national pension program increases to half of the total in 2009 from the current one-third.

Under the pension system, everyone who is 20 or older has to contribute to the basic pension program until age 60.

“Doesn’t that mean carrying over a discussion” that we need to have now, Tanigaki said.

He repeated his position that the consumption tax, now at 5 percent, must be raised to at least 10 percent by the start of the next decade.

Abe replied with the challenge, “If the tax is increased, what will it be used for?”

Tanigaki did not reply directly to the question.

Abe has held the position that the government has to cut spending and take steps to shore up economic growth. Aso said during the debate that the government needs to wait a year to see if overall tax revenue, up this year, continues to grow before discussing how to increase money going into state coffers.

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