Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was all smiles Sunday night after being asked to put flower symbols next to the names of his party’s numerous successful candidates, in a post-election appearance at Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo on Sunday.
Following the election, Abe’s lifetime ambition now appears to be one step closer to realization. For the first time in postwar history, parties supporting constitutional revision won more than two-thirds of both the Lower and Upper houses.
After leading the LDP to large victories in four national elections in a row, Abe has given his administration a buffer of stability in the wake of Sunday’s victory. The win was also seen as potentially giving momentum to realizing his long-held dream of revising the postwar Constitution, experts said.
But Abe is unlikely to try to touch the war-renouncing Article 9, at least for now, experts said, citing persistent reluctance among an apparent majority of voters.
What he might tackle instead is a proposal from pro-revision lawmakers to create an article that gives the prime minister state-of-emergency-like powers in the event of a major contingency such as a big earthquake.
By undertaking several constitutional revisions, LDP lawmakers apparently hope the nation will get used to the political processes involved, paving the way for a revision of Article 9 in the future, critics say.
“The power of the LDP will be well stabilized,” said Yoshiaki Kobayashi, a professor of political science at Keio University.
“But they won’t try to revise Article 9 for now,” Kobayashi added.
Winning more than two-thirds of both the Lower and Upper houses of the Diet is a prerequisite to initiating any national referendum on revision of the Constitution. The LDP’s victory is likely to give momentum to pro-revision political forces, he said.
To revise any article of the Constitution, more than half of the nation needs to support it. Polls have suggested voters are unlikely to support changing Article 9, which makes such an attempt risky for pro-revision political forces, Kobayashi said.
According to a poll conducted by the daily Yomiuri Shimbun in March, 61 percent of respondents said the pacifist article should be maintained as it is now, while 35 percent called for revision.
The Yomiuri has asked the same question in a poll over the past 14 years. The ratio of people opposed to changing Article 9 has gradually increased from 47.9 percent in 2002 to 61 percent this year.
“If an attempt to revise Article 9 fails, it would make it impossible to restart such a movement for the moment, possibly semipermanently. So (the LDP) will be cautious and try to start with something that can easily win consensus of the nation,” Kobayashi said.
During TV interviews Sunday night, Abe said little about whether he will push for any revision of the Constitution.
“The LDP has said we would revise the Constitution, proposing our own draft of a constitution. But at the same time, neither the LDP or the LDP-Komeito bloc has held two-thirds” of both chambers, Abe said.
“The constitutional review committee of the Diet will discuss the matter and boil down which articles should be revised and how,” Abe said.
Indeed, parties calling for constitutional changes have yet to form a consensus on exactly which article should be revised.
Under Abe in 2012 the LDP publicized its proposals to revise most articles of the Constitution, including Article 9. The LDP argued the article should be changed to allow Japan to maintain “national defense forces” and to fully use the right of collective self-defense, or the right to attack a country that is attacking an ally even if Japan itself is not under attack.
However, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi reportedly said Sunday that Article 9 should not immediately be changed.
Instead, many Komeito lawmakers say a new article to protect citizens’ rights to a healthy natural environment should be added to the Constitution.
Osaka Ishin no Kai, which won seven seats in Sunday’s election, said it is willing to initiate a national referendum, in particular to revise the Constitution so that local governments gain more more autonomy.
However, it remains unclear as to whether it would support a revision of Article 9, as Ishin leaders apparently intend to use its position on the Article 9 issue as a bargaining chip to win the LDP’s support for its own proposals for local government reforms.
Meanwhile, the LDP’s victory has also underlined weakness of opposition parties, in particular the Democratic Party, the largest opposition force.
Jun Iio, professor of political science at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said none of the opposition parties showed alternative policy measures on economic and social welfare issues to replace those of the ruling parties.
“In such a situation, people will just prefer to maintain the status quo,” Iio said.
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