Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marked the 60th anniversary of the Constitution on Thursday by calling for a bold review of the document to allow the country to take a larger role in global security and foster a revival of national pride.
Overhauling the Constitution, which was imposed by the Allied Occupation, is one of Abe’s top goals. The 1947 charter bans military force in settling international disputes and prohibits maintaining a military for warfare. It has never been altered.
While several polls this week have suggested substantial support for some changes to the document, one of the surveys showed far more opposition than support for changing the Constitution’s pacifist clause.
“A bold review of Japan’s postwar stance and an in-depth discussion of the Constitution for a ‘new Japan’ is necessary . . . to open up a new era,” Abe said in a statement issued Thursday.
He added he is also determined to work “toward a Japan that instills confidence and pride among its children.”
In a drive that began under his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, the government has been pushing for constitutional changes that would remove some restrictions on Japan’s military, including clearly recognizing the right to have a standing army.
Public support for constitutional change is mixed. In separate poll results published Thursday, the Mainichi Shimbun and Nikkei newspapers said 51 percent of those surveyed supported changing the Constitution. It was the first time those supporting a change topped 50 percent, the Mainichi said.
But in a poll published Wednesday by the Asahi Shimbun, 49 percent of the respondents said they prefer keeping the pacifist clause intact, while 33 percent favored changing it.
The Mainichi said it polled 1,085 randomly selected eligible voters by telephone on April 28-29, while the Nikkei business daily said it polled 865 voters on April 27-29. The Asahi Shimbun polled 1,807 voters by telephone on April 14-15. None of the newspapers gave a margin for error.
The government has already stretched the Constitution’s limits, interpreting Article 9 to mean the country can have armed troops to protect itself and allowing the existence of its 240,000-strong Self-Defense Forces.
In a landmark move, Tokyo deployed troops to Iraq between 2004 and 2006. Currently, Maritime Self-Defense Force tankers refuel coalition warships in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and Air Self-Defense Force elements in Kuwait assist the U.S.-led forces and the U.N. in Iraq.
Last year, the Diet voted to upgrade the Defense Agency to a full ministry. Abe also wants to review the government’s interpretation of Article 9, in which Japan is prohibited from defending an ally under attack. The prime minister has said this position prevents Tokyo from playing a greater security role overseas and forging an equal partnership with the U.S.
But obstacles remain to constitutional change. Many people credit Article 9 with keeping Japan out of war since 1945, preventing a resurgence of militarism while focusing on economic development.
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