National / Politics

Poll shows 54% oppose revision of Japan's pacifist Constitution under Abe's watch

Kyodo

Just over 40 percent in Japan are supportive of efforts to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the nation’s Constitution, while over half oppose, a poll showed Wednesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has advocated amending the top law, proposing that a paragraph of Article 9 that bans Japan from possessing a military with “war potential” is retained while stressing the need to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

In the mail survey conducted by Kyodo News, which saw valid responses from 1,930 people aged 18 and older, 29 percent said the purpose and character of the country’s defense forces should be clarified with the deletion of the paragraph, while 27 percent said they saw no need to mention the SDF in the article.

In response to a more general question of whether the U.S.-drafted Constitution should be amended for the first time ever, 54 percent said they were opposed to it under the Abe administration while 42 percent backed its amendment.

Kyodo News conducted the survey ahead of Japan’s annual celebration of Constitution Day, on May 3, seeking input from 3,000 people between February and March of which 64.3 percent gave valid responses.

The results show obstacles remain for Abe in securing wider public support and meeting his goal of putting a revised Constitution into effect in 2020.

The first paragraph of Article 9 states that the Japanese people forever renounce the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. To accomplish that aim, the second paragraph says land, sea and air forces, as well as other capacities to wage war, will never be maintained.

Opinion in the poll was split over whether Article 9 should be revised, with 47 percent believing there is no need, while 45 percent saying a change is necessary.

Despite objections from some legal scholars, the government has maintained its position that the SDF is “constitutional” and has interpreted the article as not banning Japan from possessing the “minimum necessary” capability to defend itself.

Still, Abe has said it is vital to clarify the legal status of the SDF in the article to put an end to arguments that Japan’s forces are “unconstitutional.” Of those in favor of amending the article in the survey, only 26 percent cited unconstitutionality of the SDF as their rationale while 56 percent highlighted the changing security environment facing Japan amid North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat and China’s military buildup.

In the postwar era, Article 9 has served as the backbone of Japan’s defense and foreign policy. Since Abe returned to power in 2012, Japan has expanded the scope of SDF operations overseas by loosening constraints under the Constitution.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, having long identified constitutional reform as a goal, drew up draft proposals in March last year focusing on what were described as four pillars, including Article 9 and a new emergency clause.

Regarding the proposed emergency clause that would allow the Cabinet to exert more power in limiting individual rights during large-scale disasters, 53 percent of those polled expressed opposition while 44 percent gave their support.

Regardless of specific issues, 63 percent said that they think amending the Constitution is required or may be necessary, while 36 percent said they did not see the need for it.

Amending the Constitution requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Diet, followed by majority support in a national referendum.

The existing Constitution, which designates the Emperor as the symbol of the state, came into force on May 3, 1947