National / Politics

Abe opens extra Diet session, urging action on Constitution and TPP

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday opened a 66-day extraordinary Diet session with a policy speech that pledged additional fiscal measures to prop up the economy while also urging opposition parties to dig into the hornet’s nest of debate over revising the Constitution.

The government last month unveiled a ¥28 trillion stimulus package, ¥4.1 trillion of which comprised a supplementary budget.

The Diet is expected to endorse the extra budget and debate ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement during the session, which runs through Nov. 30.

How swiftly it moves on both will depend on wrangling between the ruling and opposition parties, who are sharply at odds over changing the pacifist Constitution and other matters.

“We will strongly support domestic demand by carrying out the economic measures, which exceed ¥28 trillion,” Abe said in his speech, casting the move as an acceleration of Abenomics.

Having failed in its bid to unleash 2 percent inflation within two years through ultraloose monetary policy, the Bank of Japan altered tack on Wednesday, pledging to address the yield on bonds.

Although BOJ monetary policy has been the main pillar of Abenomics, Abe is now placing a greater emphasis on fiscal measures.

Opposition parties including the Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party oppose spending time debating the TPP, given that the pact is currently held up in the U.S. Congress and is unlikely to be ratified anytime soon.

Many farmers and consumers fear the TPP could seriously damage the agricultural sector. In his speech Monday, Abe threw them a bone, pledging to expand annual farm and fishery exports to more than ¥1 trillion.

He also called on opposition parties to “deepen discussion” at the Diet special committee on amending the Constitution.

“It is not the government but the people who will decide how the Constitution should be and what ideals Japan should have,” Abe said in the speech. “And we Diet members are responsible for proposing such ideas to the nation. Let’s deepen discussion at the commission on the Constitution.”

An Upper House election in July resulted in a two-thirds hold on both houses by parties that support revising the Constitution in some way. This majority is needed before a referendum puts the decision to the public.

But pro-revision parties are split over which articles should be revised.

Most contentious of all is the war-renouncing Article 9, which some say has served as a kind of guardian angel, keeping Japan safe since World War II, while others say it hobbles Japan’s ability to protect its interests.

Most opposition parties oppose revising the article.

In 2012, the Liberal Democratic Party created a new draft constitution that would strengthen the powers of the state but weaken individual freedoms.

The draft, written by LDP hawks when the party was in opposition, would also allow Japan’s military to exercise the right of collective self-defense as defined by the United Nations charter. This could radically widen the scope of Self-Defense Forces operations with the U.S. military.

Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, is opposed to revising Article 9, and the DP, the largest opposition party, has demanded the LDP first withdraw its 2012 draft before starting any deliberation at the special committee.

In a TV debate Sunday, newly minted DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda said deliberations within the special committee “would not go smoothly” unless the LDP withdraws the draft.

In the same program, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai was defiant, saying the party does not intend to scrap its proposal.

Polls suggest a majority of voters are against revising Article 9. Revision requires a majority vote in a national referendum.

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