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Abe prods LDP to speed up work on charter as approval ratings sink

Kyodo

In an apparent bid to draw attention to his pet project while his popularity tumbles, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe increased pressure on his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to speed up its work on revising the Constitution.

But some members of the LDP doubt Saturday’s move in Kobe will help shore up his numbers, which have fallen considerably over multiple allegations of favoritism. Now they are cautioning Abe, who doubles as party president, not to push the contentious issue in a hasty manner.

At the gathering in Kobe, Abe revealed a plan for the party to submit a draft for amending the Constitution to special panels dedicated to the issue in both the Lower and Upper houses by the end of the next extraordinary Diet session, which is likely to convene this fall.

Abe has made several bold proposals this year, including one to amend the Constitution for the first time by 2020, one to rewrite Article 9 to legitimize the Self-Defense Forces, and one to have the LDP release a draft revision for the Constitution by year’s end.

“It seems to be the strongest trump card he has,” a top LDP official said, referring to the deadline for the draft.

In a lecture in Kobe, Abe admitted he was facing “political difficulties” and even read out a haiku that mentioned “headwinds.”

The Cabinet’s approval ratings have fallen sharply, even by double digits, since the Diet closed for the summer on June 18, opinion polls say. Much of the damage was caused by the railroading of a contentious conspiracy bill through the Diet and his administration’s handling of the influence scandals linking him to deals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen.

The prime minister had originally planned to speak for 40 minutes in Kobe but ended up speaking for nearly 75 minutes.

Abe’s springing of the constitutional revision deadline was widely regarded as an attempt to tip the scales. But a senior LDP lawmaker said, “He would have a long way to go to shore up his support ratings unless the suspicions are cleared up.”

“If he fails to fulfill his responsibility to be held accountable for the imminent issues of the (favoritism) allegations,” people will just assume he doesn’t want to do it, said another member of the Cabinet.

The LDP’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution presumes an initiative for an amendment can be launched as early as next year. Saturday’s proposal, however, will prompt it to move up the schedule. “We need to speed up our work a bit,” a senior LDP lawmaker said.

Many participants at Wednesday’s meeting of the LDP panel questioned the idea of setting a specific deadline for something as sensitive as rewriting war-renouncing Article 9.

The deliberations also include the controversial issue of whether a new constitution should allow the Cabinet to circumvent the Diet when making laws during emergencies.

“It seems physically difficult to submit a draft during the next extraordinary session of the Diet,” one LDP veteran said.

“What makes the prime minister in such a hurry?” another member asked.