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LDP proposes expanding range of free education by amending Article 26

Kyodo

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party said Thursday that free education could be an issue deserving of consideration for a constitutional revision, in addition to the conservative party’s quest to rewrite war-renouncing Article 9.

The LDP made the proposal at a meeting of the House of Representatives’ Constitution Commission, but Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition ally, was cautious about the idea amid funding concerns.

The Democratic Party, the main opposition force, said it opposed the plan because the issue can be dealt with merely by drafting new laws.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in his constitutional amendment proposal on May 3 that “adding a reference” to the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9 is worth debating, while touching on free education as another area that should be subject to discussion.

At the Lower House panel meeting, Hajime Funada, leader of the LDP’s panel on promoting constitutional revision, said the charter stipulates the right to education in Article 26, but claimed there are cases in which it is not fully guaranteed due to economic constraints.

He proposed revising the article with the aim of guaranteeing the right to receive education “regardless of economic reasons.”

For Japanese, six years of elementary school and three years of junior high school are compulsory, and Article 26 says “compulsory education shall be free.”

Abe, in his remarks on May 3, said higher education — college education and vocational training after high school — must also be “truly open to all people.”

Funada, acting chairman of the LDP’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, told the panel that the party is discussing which levels of education — either preschool or higher education — should be made cost-free first.

It is also pondering ways to fund the ambitious proposal, weighing options from issuing even more government debt or raising social security premiums, Funada said.

“The LDP needs to show the direction of future discussions after putting these opinions together,” Funada said.

Abe and the LDP are apparently turning to the education issue, a topic of interest to opposition ally Nippon Ishin no Kai, to keep the smaller party at its side in chasing what would be Japan’s first revision ever to the postwar Constitution.

The reform-minded opposition party from Osaka has been claiming that there’s a need to make education free at every stage by amending the Constitutional.

“If the matter is written in the Constitution, it will not be affected by policy changes of the government at the time,” Nippon Ishin member Yasushi Adachi said.

Democratic Party member Shiori Yamao, however, said, “It is appropriate to delve into the issue by discussing how to fund the measures through laws.” The DP was backed by the tiny Social Democratic Party, which took a similar position.

Komeito’s Tetsuo Saito, meanwhile, called for cautious discussions.

The LDP, Komeito, Nippon Ishin and other pro-amendment forces currently command two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Diet, which means they can initiate the amendment process.

The proposal must then be approved by a simple majority of voters in a national referendum.