National / Politics

Setting himself apart from Abe, Shigeru Ishiba says he’s opposed to Article 9 revision for now

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s main political foe, said Friday that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party should not rush moves to revise the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9.

Ishiba made the remark during a news conference in Tokyo. On Sunday, Abe said the LDP should submit constitutional revision proposals to the extraordinary Diet session starting in the fall, presumably including his own proposal to revise Article 9.

Ishiba is set to challenge Abe in September’s LDP presidential election, which will also determine the next prime minister.

Whether the ruling party should push for Article 9 revision is likely to be a focus of policy debates in the two-way race for the LDP presidency.

“We should ask the public to make a decision on Article 9 only after gaining sufficient understanding” from the people over the issue in question, Ishiba said.

For example, Ishiba has called for deletion of the second graph of Article 9, which denies Japan “the right of belligerency of the state.”

The right, according to Ishiba, refers to a number of rules for countries engaging in war, such as how to treat prisoners of war. But now, few voters understand what the right — or Ishiba’s proposal — precisely mean, he said.

“We should first work on something highly urgent, or something a majority of people would support,” Ishiba said.

Specifically, Ishiba argued that the LDP should urgently focus on two constitutional issues: A proposed revision to elect at least one Upper House representative from each prefecture, and another to give the prime minister extraordinary power to deal with emergencies, such as natural disasters.

On Sunday in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Abe said the LDP should propose its own proposal to revise Article 9 to formalize the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

Abe has argued the move would not change the nature of Japan’s military operations, but some left-leaning politicians and intellectuals have opposed the proposal,  saying it could remove some of the strict legal restrictions on the SDF imposed by Article 9.

Previously, Ishiba has advocated radical revision of Article 9, which experts say would eventually allow Japan to fully exercise the right of collective self-defense — the right to attack a third country assaulting an ally that has close security ties with Japan.

But on Friday, Ishiba emphasized that no national consensus has been formed over the Article 9 issues, and he said the party should not set schedules for Diet procedures to promote revision of Article 9 for now — an apparent criticism of Abe’s policy.

“We should ask the public to vote for or against something only after they fully understand the issue,” he said.

Ishiba apparently arranged Friday’s news conference to garner support from rank-and-file members of the LDP, many of whom are believed to attach more importance to economic and welfare issues than constitutional revision.

Some observers say Abe restarted his push for constitutional revision in a bid to maintain his political clout within the party after the presidential election, in which Abe is predicted to beat Ishiba.

Abe is believed to have already secured support of about 70 percent of the 405 LDP lawmakers, each of whom holds a vote in the September election.

Ballots cast by rank-and-file party members nationwide will be also counted as 405 votes in total. Ishiba is now trying to drum up support from as many as those rank-and-file members as possible.

Ishiba has called on the party to arrange policy debate sessions with Abe ahead of the September vote. But Abe has so far avoided directly debating Ishiba in public.

On Wednesday, Abe headed for his resort villa in Narusawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, and his summer vacation is now expected to continue for about a week.

To revise any article of the Constitution, the Diet must first initiate a national referendum by securing support from two-thirds or more of the members of both houses of the Diet. Then, support from at least half of voters in a national referendum is required to revise a constitutional article.

The LDP has long promised that it would not try to initiate any national referendum on constitutional revision unless major parties in the Diet agree to do so, in particular the top opposition party.

But the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, is strongly opposed to Abe’s revision proposal.

Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP, has also remained reluctant to support Abe’s moves.