National

Majority of Japanese oppose any constitutional revisions under Abe, but see need for future changes, poll finds

Kyodo

More than half of Japanese oppose any constitutional revisions under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — though a majority do see a need for some changes in the future, a Kyodo News survey showed Wednesday.

Revising the Constitution has been a long-held goal of the conservative prime minister.

According to the mail-in survey conducted ahead of the 71st anniversary of Japan’s supreme law taking effect, 61 percent of respondents said they are against amending the Constitution under Abe, compared with 38 percent in favor.

Abe said last year that he was aiming to revise the nation’s pacifist Constitution by 2020, a move supported by his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Sixty-two percent did not back this time frame for carrying out the first-ever amendment to the postwar Constitution, which was imposed by the United States following Japan’s surrender in World War II. Some 36 percent were in support of his proposed schedule.

However, the survey also highlighted that a majority of the public, at 58 percent, think amending the supreme law at some point in the future is “necessary” or “somewhat necessary,” versus 39 percent who saw no such need.

Many of those who advocated revision cited the “outdatedness” of some clauses.

The results indicate that while many Japanese see a need for revising the Constitution to fit better with the times, they feel no need to rush any changes — an attitude that may reflect distrust in the current administration, which is grappling with a series of political scandals, including cronyism allegations against Abe himself.

The survey also highlighted the public’s high regard for the war-renouncing Article 9, with 69 percent saying it has been the reason Japan has never used force overseas since the end of World War II.

Revising Article 9 is one of the LDP’s proposals. Last May 3, the anniversary of the Constitution’s promulgation, Abe called for the clarification of the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces in the article, arguing that the lack of reference to Japanese troops in the postwar Constitution leaves room for them to be viewed as “unconstitutional.”

That proposal was adopted by the LDP last month.

Besides the war-renouncing clause, the ruling party also raised three other potential areas for constitutional revision, including education and the electoral system.

The respondents were divided on whether Article 9, which also bans the possession of military forces and other “war potential,” needs changing, with 44 percent in favor of its revision and 46 percent against.

Miho Aoi, a law professor at Gakushuin University, said the survey showed the public is “wavering” on whether or not to revise the article.

“Debate over constitutional revision needs special knowledge,” Aoi said. “We should by no means revise the Constitution without sufficient discussions and understanding among the people.”

Asked about whether they are interested in the issue of constitutional revision itself, 73 percent said they were “interested” or “interested to some extent.”

Shujiro Kato, a professor emeritus of politics at Toyo University, said the public felt a need to revise Article 9 in some way amid growing security concerns posed by nuclear-armed North Korea and an increasingly aggressive China, but did not see this as an urgent matter.

Noting the lack of thorough debate over the issue, Kato urged further discourse.

“Political parties and lawmakers should explain the points for discussion regarding revising the Constitution and priorities in revisions as much as possible,” Kato said.

Abe had been seen as having a golden opportunity to amend the Constitution, as the LDP and other parties supportive of doing so currently account for two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of the Diet — the threshold required to put amendment proposals to a national referendum.

But his plunging approval ratings and weakening grip on power due to a flurry of scandals — including favoritism allegations and a sexual harassment claim involving a top bureaucrat — have clouded the prospects of constitutional reform.

In the nationwide survey, a questionnaire was sent by mail on March 7 to 3,000 randomly selected people aged 18 and older. A total of 2,040 returned their answers by April 13, with valid responses collected from 1,922.