Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempt to pressure his party into revising its constitutional revision proposals by the end of the year appears to have backfired, and he is now willing to let the party itself dictate the timing instead.
At a news conference after Thursday’s Cabinet reshuffle, Abe was asked about his pledge to have the ruling Liberal Democratic Party submit a draft during the extraordinary Diet session expected to be held from September to early December.
“The schedule should not be determined in advance,” Abe said. “It is the Diet that should propose (constitutional revisions) . . . I’d like the party to take the initiative.”
Later Thursday, Koichi Hagiuda, the LDP’s deputy secretary-general and a close Abe aide, told a news program that the prime minister’s remark signaled the deadline was no longer in place.
“We shouldn’t stop discussion on the Constitution, so we will actively promote party debate,” Hagiuda said on a BS Nippon Corp. program. “But he is sending the message that it does not need to make it exactly by the next extraordinary Diet session.”
Some observers have speculated it has become politically difficult for the hawkish prime minister to continue pursuing his long-held ambition of rewriting the pacifist, U.S.-drafted Constitution.
Revising the supreme code, in particular Article 9, remains one of the most controversial issues in domestic politics and one of the LDP’s main goals. The LDP drafted a new constitution in 2012, but the party has said it would not propose it to the Diet.
In May, however, Abe abruptly proposed that the LDP redraft its proposals and submit them to the extraordinary Diet session, and that Japan adopt a new Constitution in 2020 after a national referendum.
In particular, he proposed revising war-renouncing Article 9 to legitimize the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, although the government has maintained for decades that the SDF is already constitutional.
But over the past two months, Abe’s Cabinet has tumbled unexpectedly in the opinion polls following a number of gaffes and scandals.
After the Cabinet reshuffle Thursday, Abe again said he will prioritize the revitalization of the economy rather than his desire to revise the Constitution.
In the past, Abe has similarly responded to falling poll numbers by emphasizing economic issues. After regaining some political capital through populist economic policies, he typically shifts back to his core agenda. In 2015, this resulted in the enactment of two divisive security laws designed to loosen constitutional restrictions on the Self-Defense Forces.