Like other Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, Hajime Funada is a strong proponent of amending the postwar Constitution.
The veteran Lower House lawmaker, 62, has been seeking the revision as an active member of the Constitution Research Council of the Lower House since the Diet launched the panel 16 years ago.
But Funada is a maverick within the party because he is waging a solitary campaign against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s constitutional revision drive.
When he regained his Lower House seat in 2012, Funada was shocked by the radical nature of the 2012 LDP draft constitution, which, for example, renamed the Self-Defense Forces kokubogun (military for the defense of the nation) and introduced an emergencies clause.
” ‘Military’ sounds quite different from ‘the SDF.’ I am concerned about the part of the emergencies clause where it gives the prime minister unchecked power,” said Funada, the acting director of the LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, which compiled the draft when he was not a lawmaker.
“I would have never approved the draft if I had been part of the discussion,” he said.
Even without Funada’s protests, Abe faces headwinds in his bid to revise the Constitution.
Pro-revision lawmakers dominate two-thirds of both chambers of the Diet. There is even talk of extending Abe’s term as LDP president beyond its technical September 2018 end so he can continue pushing to amend the text.
The LDP said the 2012 draft is just a prototype for the hoped-for revision, and the party is not going to present the draft in its current form when negotiating with other parties. But with the party’s current electoral winning streak and Abe’s unparalleled power, it is uncertain how much the LDP may compromise.
Abe’s uncontested power has created a situation in which almost no one speaks out against him within the party, let alone challenges his stance on the Constitution — except for Funada.
Party members fear limiting their careers if they antagonize Abe, losing out on potential posts in the Cabinet and LDP executive or being sidelined altogether.
Funada does not seem to fear a backlash. He probably became even more vocal after he was demoted to acting director from director of the LDP constitutional revision unit last October.
His demotion was apparent punishment for summoning Yasuo Hasebe to the Lower House Constitutional Research Council, where the Waseda University scholar on the Constitution lambasted the Abe administration’s security legislation as unconstitutional when the contentious bills were being deliberated in the Diet.
Funada is mainly worried by Article 9, likely a priority target of Abe’s. The LDP draft says Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense — regardless of whether it is to defend itself or its allies in combat — without listing limitations.
Funada said the Constitution should clearly state what Japan can do in terms of collective self-defense so that the security legislation allows Japan to exercise the right only when its existence is threatened.
Funada is also against changing the status of the Emperor from the nation’s “symbol” to the “head of state.” The LDP wants to empower the Emperor.
He says making the Emperor the head of state suggests he could wield political power.
The LDP draft has also drawn fire for its apparent limits on basic human rights. For example, the current Article 21 guarantees the freedom of assembly, speech and press without restriction. The draft, however, limits those freedoms, saying those rights are not guaranteed if they mean to harm the public good and order.
“What kind of press freedom would be considered harmful to the public good and order?” Funada asked, saying TV stations could be shut down, as Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi hinted earlier this year.
“It would restrict media criticism of the government,” said Funada. “The balance would be very difficult once it’s written in the Constitution.”
A source close to Funada said his extremely candid comments can be attributed to his overly honest nature and elite, wealthy upbringing.
Funada was once considered a prince within the LDP and seen as a strong candidate for prime minister. Like Abe, he was born into a political blueblood family.
Both his great-grandfather and grandfather chaired the House of Representatives. His father was an Upper House lawmaker from the LDP and also served as governor of Tochigi, the Funada family’s constituency.
Funada was first elected to the Lower House at 25, the youngest at that time, and became the youngest minister when he was 39.
But his honest nature led to his downfall when an affair with then-LDP Upper House member Kei Hata came to light. Even though the couple faced down the criticism and married in 1999, Funada lost his seat in an election in 2000, was re-elected, and lost it again in 2009, when the LDP was ousted from power.
He has been sidelined since the affair, and the veteran politician of 37 years is unlikely to gain much political momentum while Abe remains in power.
But his fringe status might put him in an unusual position where he can say whatever he feels, especially with his rock-solid Tochigi constituency.
His family runs a lucrative local school called Sakushin Gakuin, an institution that offers education from kindergarten level to university and even graduate school.
Funada was also critical of Abe’s attitude during the July Upper House election when it came to revising the Constitution. While Abe tried to avoid raising the issue during the campaign, instead focusing on the economy, he now wants to restart discussions on amendments at the Diet’s Constitution Research Councils.
The stance of the Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, might be misleading as well. While the DP and other opposition parties gave voters the impression that they are basically against revising Japan’s supreme law under Abe, both camps have similar priorities: the emergencies clause and fiscal discipline.
DP President Katsuya Okada recently said the party would join revision discussions, except for when it comes to Article 9.
“Both the LDP and the opposition parties are using the Constitution for their political game,” Funada said. “And it should not be that way.”
Some in the public fear the LDP will ram the revision through the Diet in the same way the party did with the state secrets law and the security legislation.
Funada believes it will not be easy. He said handling the matter in a high-handed way would alienate the public and result in voters rejecting the constitutional revision in the expected national referendum.
“The more the LDP pushes for the revision in a hasty way, the more it will be delayed, as the public won’t like it,” said Funada. “The party has to proceed slowly.”
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