National / Politics

Virus brings Japan's debate on constitutional revision to a standstill

JIJI

The spread of the new coronavirus is likely to further delay any talks on constitutional revision in the Diet.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party remains eager to amend the Constitution, but the issue has been put on the back burner as the government strives to bring the outbreak under control.

The prospect of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolving the Lower House for a snap election to build momentum toward constitutional revision is also losing steam.

“We aim to amend the Constitution to fulfill our responsibility for future nation-building,” the LDP said in its campaign platform for the year, adopted at a meeting of its members in both chambers of the Diet on Tuesday.

But Abe spent most of his speech at the meeting on measures to deal with the viral outbreak. On constitutional amendment, Abe said only, “We should unite and do our best, based on the campaign platform.”

LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told reporters that issues about the Constitution should be discussed after the coronavirus pandemic settles down.

Also behind the stagnating talks on constitutional revision are government calls for restraint on large events to prevent the spread of the virus.

The LDP has decided to cancel a local policy meeting aimed at increasing momentum for revision, which had been slated for March 30 in Shizuoka. The party’s constitutional revision promotion panel has also been forced to suspend its local campaign tours.

Now that the government’s fiscal 2020 budget is set to be enacted by March 31, the end of the fiscal 2019, the LDP seems ready to pass a bill to make it easier for people to vote on any referendum on constitutional amendment in the future.

On Wednesday, LDP Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama asked Jun Azumi, his counterpart from the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, to agree to a meeting of senior members of the Lower House panel on issues related to the Constitution at an early date.

But Azumi turned down the request, noting that now is the time to concentrate on the efforts to contain the virus outbreak.

Since December, Abe has repeatedly said he will decide to dissolve the Lower House “without hesitation” once he judges the time has come to seek a public mandate.

The remark caused some to speculate that the prime minister may seek to break the impasse on constitutional revision talks by dissolving the Lower House.

But the magnitude of the coronavirus crisis is now leading many to believe that an early breakup of the lower chamber is impossible. “Holding a Lower House election would be difficult unless the outbreak subsides,” an LDP former Cabinet minister said.

Meanwhile, LDP members eager to revise the supreme law are increasingly complaining about the situation. Yoshitaka Shindo has said he wants to “lodge a protest” at the CDP’s rejection of the LDP proposal.

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