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The ruling Liberal Democratic Party kicked off deliberations among rank-and-file lawmakers Wednesday over a revision proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

The LDP executives are now trying to generate a formal party consensus on Abe’s proposal in order to draw up a draft by the end of this year. The discussion is part of the party’s decision-making process on key policy matters.

The meeting was held for the first time since Abe, who also serves as the LDP president, last month proposed revising Article 9 to legitimize the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.

In addition, the LDP now plans to discuss three other proposed constitutional revisions as well. The revisions are giving the prime minister extraordinary powers in emergency situations, reforming the electoral system for the Upper House and making higher education free.

“Now we have entered a phase where the party’s headquarters should create a concrete revision draft,” said Okiharu Yasuoka, the head of the party’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, after the meeting.

Under Abe’s proposal, the existence and missions of the SDF would be officially defined in Article 9 while keeping unchanged Japan’s traditional defense-oriented posture.

Abe’s idea was an unexpected departure from LDP’s original plan, which involved a radical revision to Article 9 allowing Japan to fully exercise the right of collective self-defense, i.e., using force in aiding an ally even when Japan was not under attack.

Abe is believed to have given up on drastic revisions to the Constitution, as his priority is to win support from Komeito, a junior coalition partner of the LDP, and a majority of voters.

But Abe’s proposal has drawn criticism from some LDP members who drew up of the party’s original proposal.

About 100 party members attended the meeting Wednesday, and about 30 expressed opinions on the Article 9 issue, according to participants.

About half of those who made remarks seem to support Abe’s plan while several others were opposed, according to Shigeru Ishiba, a former LDP secretary general who supports a more drastic revision of Article 9.

The LDP’s original proposal called for deletion of the second paragraph of the war-renouncing Article 9, which reads: “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Under Abe’s proposal, the second paragraph of Article 9 would remain intact, but include new text legitimizing the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, which were established in 1954 in contradiction to Article 9.

Ishiba argues the SDF is in fact a military force and the right of belligerency of the state should be clearly recognized under the Constitution.

Any revision of Article 9 without such clarification “would be just meaningless,” said Ishiba, who is widely regarded as a political rival to Abe.

The government has argued that the SDF is considered constitutional despite Article 9 because self-defense is an inherent right given to any independent state.

Yasuoka said he himself believes Abe’s proposal is “a very realistic one” that will win support from two-thirds of both Upper and Lower Houses to initiate a national referendum. He believes it will also win the support of more than half of voters.

To revise any article of the Constitution, support from more than half of voters is required in a national referendum.

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