National / Politics

Abe clears decks for debate on amending Japan's Constitution

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

When the extraordinary Diet session convenes on Friday, 15 government-sponsored bills are expected to be submitted — one of the lowest totals since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s second stint started — reflecting his administration’s determination to focus its energy on revising the Constitution.

But coming to an agreement on a constitutional revision bill that can then be put to a nationwide referendum is likely to prove the most contentious debate, with the opposition parties now either staking out, or reaffirming, their position on the issue.

As it stands, the pro-revision camp does not have the two-thirds majority in the Upper House that would allow the Diet to submit a proposal.

If Abe wants to revise the postwar supreme code by the time his term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and thus prime minister, ends in September 2021, it is crucial for him to seek some form of agreement with coalition partner Komeito, which is opposed to rewriting Article 9, as well as those opposition parties showing a willingness to talk it over with the LDP.

Here are the basic positions of the nation’s six major political parties.

Ruling parties:

LDP

The main focus of the LDP, or for Abe, is to stipulate the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution in a way that legalizes Japan’s de facto military.

For decades, scholars have argued that the SDF violates Article 9, which states Japan’s disavowal of “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

But Abe has made it his political goal to put an end to that debate once and for all.

“Having the Constitution codify the SDF, which plays a central role in protecting Japan’s safety and the lives of its people, has been the purpose of the Liberal Democratic Party since its foundation,” Abe said in an 2018 interview with The Japan Times.

The party is also proposing three other topics for revisions: emergencies, electoral districts and education. It is proposing a supreme charter that will aim to strengthen the government’s ability to swiftly respond in times of natural disaster, as well as disintegrate merged electoral districts in the Upper House. The revision also calls for the state to ensure all students will be able to receive education regardless of financial status.

Komeito

The junior coalition party has been cautious or skeptical of the LDP’s intent and has yet to formulate its own detailed plan for revision.

Many members are opposed to rewriting Article 9 to legalize the SDF, fearing it could open the door to more foreign military intervention or get Japan involved in another war.

However, the party says it is open to adding less controversial clauses, for instance, the right to a clean and safe environment.

If the LDP proceeds to revise Article 9, resistance in Komeito is likely to be one of the first hurdles it will need to overcome.

Opposition parties:

CDP

Although the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan says the party is open to debate, it’s generally to opposed to the LDP-proposed changes. But they’ve said that, before discussing constitutional revision itself, ground rules need to be laid down for holding a nationwide referendum. This starts with a Diet agreement on various restrictions and guidelines on TV and internet advertising in the run-up to a referendum. This includes the possibility of introducing a bill to ban all referendum-related advertising.

DPP

Abe believes there may be some Democratic Party for the People members who could ultimately be convinced to vote for revision.

While the party has said it opposes the LDP’s proposal for writing the SDF into the Constitution out of fear it will give the SDF too much power, it has also indicated it’s willing to debate constitutional revision in the Diet. It also wants a charter that provides more regional authority and restricts the prime minister’s ability to dissolve the Lower House.

Japanese Communist Party

The Japanese Communist Party remains firmly opposed to any form of constitutional revision and wants to keep the current one as is, saying it reflects the will of the people.

Nippon Ishin no Kai

Although the party is believed to be in general agreement with the LDP on its proposals, it has recently indicated opposition to the specific language regarding the status of the SDF, saying that the wording is too vague and could lead to unlimited power.

On the other hand, Nippon Ishin has said it would be willing to work with the LDP, with which it is quite close on other issues, to find acceptable language.

The party’s own constitutional revision proposals include free education and structural reform to deal with the problems of an older, smaller population and overconcentration of resources in Tokyo.

A handful of smaller parties, with a broad range of views on whether a constitutional revision is necessary, what kinds of revisions are needed and whether reform is urgent will also play a role in the Diet discussions.

To fight Abe’s ruling coalition, the CDP, DPP and a parliamentary group headed by former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda inked an agreement to form a joint parliamentary group in both houses of the Diet.

Question times in Diet deliberations are allocated according to the number of members in each parliamentary group. But whether the joint group, which isn’t on the same page on constitutional revision, would play a decisive role in the constitutional debate remains to be seen.

With a busy autumn schedule, there is also concern as to how much time will be available for a thorough debate. Events on the political calendar include the Emperor’s enthronement celebration on Oct. 22, which is expected to include dignitaries from around the world. And in mid-November, Abe will go to the APEC conference in Chile.


Legal process for amending charter

1. Revision proposals must be supported by at least 100 members in the Lower House and 50 in the Upper House to be submitted to the Diet.

2. Proposals will be deliberated by constitution committees to be set up in each chamber. To advance, they must be passed by each panel separately, with majority support.

3. Proposals must then be voted on by plenary sessions in each chamber and pass by a two-thirds majority.

4. A national referendum must be held within 60 to 180 days of a revision clearing the Diet. The Constitution will be amended if a simple majority of voters favors the revision.