SHIMONOSEKI, YAMAGUCHI PREF. – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday his Liberal Democratic Party should accelerate work to compile its plan to amend the Constitution so that it can be submitted to the next Diet session, expected to be convened in the fall.
“We cannot continue our debate forever. Politics is all about outcome and we will achieve the goal with broad consensus,” Abe said during his speech in his home constituency of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Abe is eager to amend for the first time the 71-year-old Constitution, which was written during the U.S.-led Occupation after Japan was defeated in World War II. Specifically, he has called for adding an “explicit reference” to the Self-Defense Forces to the pacifist Article 9 to ensure there is no way for them to be deemed “unconstitutional.”
Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who declared his candidacy Friday for the LDP presidential race in September, has proposed a more drastic rewriting of the war-renouncing Article 9, implying he would seek to remove constraints imposed on SDF activities. He has also said more time is needed to discuss changes to the supreme law.
Abe, who has yet to officially throw his hat into the ring, said he expects LDP “members to deepen the debate” on constitutional revision and that such a discussion will prompt them to “be united and move forward together.” His comment is believed to suggest that the constitutional amendment should be a major issue during the campaign for the LDP leadership, which is expected to be a two-horse race between Abe and Ishiba.
On Saturday, Abe said, “Most school texts mention that there are arguments that the SDF are unconstitutional. I have a great responsibility to bring an end to this situation. That is the responsibility of the LDP and politicians living in this age.”
Abe told reporters earlier Sunday, “My goal has not changed at all since I ran in the (LDP presidential race) six years ago.”
He added that he will make a decision on whether to run in the upcoming election after considering whether he is “mentally and physically fit enough to serve another three-year term.”
The LDP election, which will effectively decide who becomes prime minister, will likely be held on Sept. 20, with official campaigning kicking off Sept. 7. Abe’s victory in the race would all but ensure he becomes Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
Abe, who took office for the second time in December 2012, has had an unrivaled grip on power and was re-elected unopposed for a second term as LDP president in 2015. His current three-year term as president ends Sept. 30.
Turning to foreign policy, Abe also expressed his eagerness during Sunday’s speech to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he looks to achieve a breakthrough on the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
Also referring to bilateral negotiations to settle the long-standing territorial row with Russia over islands off Hokkaido and a recent improvement in Japan’s ties with China, Abe said, “We have to lay the foundation for the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia in the new era. This is the time to take an inventory of postwar foreign policy.”
Ishiba’s pledge through his campaign slogan to bring about “honest and fair” politics is seen as a jab at the cronyism allegations haunting Abe from the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen scandals.
The prime minister said he needs to be “aware of influence the position of prime minister could wield on surrounding people and cautiously manage” his government.