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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprise declaration last week that he wants to revise the pacifist Constitution by 2020 has ignited discord within his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with some of its most influential lawmakers openly slamming his plan.

Veteran Shigeru Ishiba, who narrowly lost the party’s 2012 leadership election to Abe, said Friday that the statement — released on the 70th anniversary of the charter’s enforcement last week — shouldn’t override the LDP’s previous debates on the matter. In 2012, the LDP unveiled its own draft charter as a potential alternative to the current version, which has remained unchanged for the last 70 years.

In a video message shown at a gathering celebrating the milestone anniversary of the charter, Abe proposed mentioning the Self-Defense Forces in war-renouncing Article 9 to legitimize its status. Any new mention of the SDF can coexist with that pivotal clause and does not necessitate a revision to its phraseology, he said.

But Abe’s proposal contradicts his party’s more radical draft, which highlighted a major revision of Article 9 to upgrade the SDF to a full-fledged military. By presenting a watered-down proposal, Abe apparently wanted to stave off a backlash from opposition parties and the public.

“The LDP once officially approved the draft and even compiled a Q&A booklet to explain our views. Some lawmakers within our party have enthusiastically used the draft to appeal to their local supporters,” Ishiba told reporters after attending the LDP’s internal meeting on constitutional revision.

If the LDP president’s remark can overturn the party’s draft, no party member will want to hold further discussions about any revisions, he said.

Ishiba also criticized Abe for setting a 2020 deadline. The prime minister argued that the year would be the perfect time to introduce a revised Constitution because it dovetails nicely with some sort of “new start” image for Japan, apparently to be symbolized by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Rather, Ishiba said, Article 9 should be changed “as soon as possible” so that people with direct knowledge of the war’s carnage will be kept in the loop while still alive.

“I don’t care when the Olympics will take place. I don’t think such an event should be used as a tool” to engineer any constitutional revision, he said.

Hajime Funada, a strong proponent of revision, likewise questioned Abe’s sudden reference to the timeline, calling it “rash.”

“I think the prime minister’s mention of the 2020 goal underlined his desire to tackle the revision while he is in power,” the lawmaker told reporters after the meeting.

“Not that I don’t understand his feelings at all. . . . But the discussion should be left to the Diet, and specifying a certain timeline is not a desirable thing to do. I would say it was a rather rash call,” he said.

Abe’s bid has also left him at odds with Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner.

Yoshihisa Inoue, secretary-general of Komeito, cast doubt on the legitimacy of Abe’s claim that the SDF needs to be defined by the Constitution.

“It’s not like we’re in a situation where the lack of the SDF’s status in the Constitution would pose a threat to our security environment,” Inoue said.

Information from Kyodo added

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