Constitution Day marked with rallies and protests

by and

On the occasion of the 63rd Constitution Day, and with the national referendum law to take effect May 18, a group of conservative intellectuals on Monday stressed the need to kick-start debate on the Constitution, which they argued has been on the back burner for too long.

“The Constitution debate is more low-key this year than we’ve ever seen,” Osamu Nishi, head of a committee of conservative intellectuals, said at a forum in Tokyo.

This is the first Constitution Day since the Democratic Party of Japan and its coalition partners came to power, and Nishi said “the current government has no intention of putting the Constitution debate back on the table.”

Meanwhile, the DPJ is planning to submit a bill to give foreigners voting rights in local elections, which violates the Constitution, said Nishi who is also a law professor at Komazawa University.

The DPJ has many lawmakers from different political backgrounds, so it is hard for the party to come up with a definitive policy on the Constitution, which was drafted in 1947 by the Allied Occupation. In addition, the party is in an alliance with the Social Democratic Party, which strongly opposes revisions to the pacifist Constitution.

Many conservatives argue that Japan needs to create a Constitution drafted by Japanese people and change the war-renouncing Article 9 to enhance the country’s military capacity and give Tokyo more diplomatic leverage.

Meanwhile, thousands of people gathered in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park to mark the 63rd anniversary of the Constitution and display their opposition to any revision.

“I will not allow change to Article 9,” Mizuho Fukushima, head of the SDP, one of the DPJ’s junior coalition partners, told the gathering organized by pacifist groups.

“Now a national referendum law is about to be enforced. But there is much homework to be done. I will not allow the ‘kenpo shinsakai’ (a constitutional research panel in both Diet chambers)” to get under way.”

The national referendum law, which stipulates the procedures for Constitutional amendments, is scheduled to take effect May 18.

The law was established in 2007 under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party with an eye to amending Article 9, which prohibits Japan from possessing a military and renounces the use of force as a means of settling international disputes. However, since the DPJ came to power, no active discussion has taken place concerning the Constitution.

“Because of the pacifist charter, we can live happily. As a junior coalition party, I will do my best to keep the philosophy of the Constitution alive,” Fukushima said.

Yuko Tanaka, a professor at Hosei University who specializes in the culture of the Edo Period, said: “We must protect Article 9. But we should not protect the pacifist charter by putting it into a museum.”

Tanaka noted that the most important issue now is moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma out of Okinawa.

“What we must also be aware of is that there could be movements of rearmament of the Self-Defense Forces after the relocation of the bases. If we see any signs of such movements, we must stop them,” she said.

“It is important for Japanese citizens to get together and protect Article 9,” said Kunio Kubota, an 86-year-old Tokyo resident, who has been attending the gathering every year for the past decade. “We have Futenma and other issues that should not be overlooked. . . . With the referendum law about to take place May 18, I’m on alert for the government’s next move.”