National / Politics

Top Japanese government spokesman denies reports Abe is wavering on submission of LDP proposal for constitutional revision

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The top government spokesman on Thursday denied reports that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has “toned down” his stated desire to submit the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s constitutional amendment proposal before the Diet’s fall session begins later this month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was responding to reports earlier in the day by the Mainichi Shimbun daily and Jiji Press that said Abe has effectively backtracked from his earlier promise to submit the LDP’s proposal to the extraordinary Diet session.

According to the reports, Abe told former LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura during a closed meeting on Wednesday that there is room for him to compromise and just provide an unofficial “explanation” — instead of a more formal “submission” — on what the LDP’s proposal to the Diet would look like.

Abe’s purported compromise, if true, appears to reflect the difficulties he is having in gaining full party support for his proposed way of formalizing the ambiguous status of the Self-Defense Forces, the nation’s de facto military.

Some lawmakers within the LDP, such as ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who put up a better-than-expected fight against Abe in last month’s leadership election, are deeply opposed to the prime minister’s proposed method.

When asked for confirmation, Suga rebutted the reports by repeating Abe’s official stance, saying that he understands that LDP lawmakers will seek to put together a unified formal party proposal.

“(Abe) said he will aim for the LDP proposal to be submitted. It is based on this idea, I think, that further discussions within the LDP will take place,” he said.

Abe’s victory in the Sept. 20 intraparty poll won him a third term in office — his final stint in the post according to LDP rules — that could continue through 2021. He is now relying heavily on his push for revising the postwar Constitution to maintain momentum for his term-limited leadership in order to avoid becoming a lame duck.

Still, his stated desire to tweak the war-renouncing Article 9 of the supreme law in order to end the long-standing scholarly disagreement over the status of the SDF — which some argue violates its strictly pacifist clause — faces resistance not only within the LDP but from Komeito, its junior coalition partner.

This bodes ill for Abe, because cooperation from Komeito — plus other pro-revision forces — is vital for the LDP to reach a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Diet to initiate a national referendum on revising the charter.

Komeito, however, has maintained a cautious approach toward Abe’s proposal to legitimize the SDF’s status.

Although Abe after his re-election expressed his wish to strike a consensus with Komeito before submitting the LDP proposal to the Diet, its president, Natsuo Yamaguchi, has so far snubbed his overtures.

“Ruling and opposition parties are all equal players when it comes to discussing the Constitution,” Yamaguchi reportedly said Wednesday upon meeting Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the opposition Democratic Party for the People.

“It’s not very preferable to try to form a consensus outside the Diet before the game begins,” he added.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5