Lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argued on Thursday for amendments to the Constitution as the Diet resumed debate on the issue for the first time in two years.
At the session, a cross-party group reported details of a September fact-finding trip to Germany, Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia, where members studied constitutional and referendum systems.
Eisuke Mori, head of the cross-party group and an LDP member, said Germany has revised its constitution, or Basic Law, 63 times — including this year — since World War II.
“There is a political culture that both ruling and opposition parties do not hesitate to make bold concessions to revise the Basic Law,” Mori said.
Such concessions “need to be considered, but we have to be careful not to undermine the constitutional system,” he added.
Takeshi Shina, an independent lawmaker belonging to a parliamentary group of opposition parties, expressed caution about any constitutional amendment.
“We should discuss articles of the Constitution that really need to be amended, not matters that only require legal revisions,” Shina said.
The debate was held as Abe pursues his goal of achieving the first-ever amendment to the pacifist supreme law.
The discussion at the House of Representatives’ Commission on the Constitution had been scheduled for Oct. 31, but was postponed due to the resignation of Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai over a gift scandal.
The ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito is seeking to revise the referendum law during this Diet session, scheduled to end in early December.
The draft bill to revise the referendum law, submitted by the ruling and some opposition parties, includes measures to make voting more convenient, such as widening the range of polling stations to include train stations and shopping centers, among other locations.
Amending the Constitution requires approval by two-third majorities in both chambers of the Diet, followed by majority support in a national referendum. The coalition will need the support of some pro-amendment opposition parties to secure the two-thirds approval.
The commission was set up in both Diet chambers in 2007, but active debates have been repeatedly suspended due to standoffs between ruling and opposition parties.
Abe said in May 2017 that he will seek a first-ever change to the postwar Constitution, aiming for this to be effective from 2020.
The LDP compiled an action plan in March last year that included proposals to mention the Self-Defense Forces in war-renouncing Article 9 to clarify their legal status.
But gaining the support of two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Lower and Upper Houses of the Diet may be a high bar for Abe to reach, and although the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito make up a large chunk of the Diet, their stances on constitutional revision differ slightly.
Abe has been clear about his hopes for revising Article 9, but Komeito, backed by a Buddhist organization, has pacifist views and has been cautious about supporting the prime minister’s stance.
In their campaign pledge for this year’s Upper House elections, Komeito didn’t clearly support the idea of clarifying the legal status of the SDF, pointing out that “the majority of the public understand the current role of the SDF and support it, and do not think they are an unconstitutional entity.”