National / Politics

Abe's push to change Japan's Constitution hits roadblock as parties scrap Diet discussion

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

With only two weeks to go until this year’s extraordinary Diet session comes to a close, the ruling bloc and opposition parties agreed to cancel Thursday’s discussion on constitutional change, effectively dashing any remaining hopes of passing a referendum bill this year related to a possible amendment of the top law.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party had been hopeful that the bill would be passed this year and suggested on Wednesday that the Lower House special Diet committee on constitutional affairs vote on the revision to the referendum law on Thursday, so that it will be ready to clear the lower chamber at its plenary session.

However, opposition parties rejected the idea, saying the issue had not been sufficiently debated and that it was too soon to pass the bill, eventually leading to the Thursday session being axed.

“We are not in a state to pass this referendum bill,” given that there are still numerous details that must be discussed, Kazuhiro Haraguchi, the Diet affairs chief of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, told reporters at a news conference.

As the Lower House special committee meets once a week, there will only be two occasions for the bill to be discussed until the Diet session ends on Dec. 9, making it nearly impossible for the bill to be sent to the Upper House and passed this year.

The opposition parties insisted that they “could not let this bill pass during the current Diet session and that (they) must continue to debate it,” he added.

LDP sources have said the party has all but given up hope of passing the bill this year, reports have said. As they sought to pass the bill during this session, high-profile LDP politicians such as Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima, speaking during a private party in early October, had urged the ruling bloc and the opposition to “come to an agreement.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga initially refrained from commenting on the issue Thursday, saying that it was one that “must be decided at the Diet.”

When pressed on how the government, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — whose long-held goal is to amend the charter — plans to proceed given the setback, Suga said that “constitutional revision isn’t an issue that follows a pre-determined timeline, but one that should be debated thoroughly between the parties at the special Diet committee on constitutional affairs.”

Still, constitutional revision appears to be on Abe’s mind. On Wednesday, while reflecting on his time in office after having become the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe said constitutional revision was an issue high on his agenda, following other challenges such as the economy and the country’s declining population.

In 2017, speaking at an annual forum on the issue, he said that he hoped to see the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics start in 2020 under a new charter — a pledge that he repeated this year at the same forum.

Abe is known to be in favor of revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. He has recently stated that he hopes to see wording that will clarify the role of the Self-Defense Forces added to the current article to put an end to academic debate over whether they are constitutional.