National

Japan divided over adding emergency clause to Constitution, survey finds

Kyodo

Japan is divided over whether it should amend its Constitution, introducing an emergency clause to give more power to the Cabinet at a time of a major disaster at the risk of restricting people’s rights, a recent survey has found.

The mail survey conducted by Kyodo News in March and April, ahead of Constitution Memorial Day on Sunday, targeted some 3,000 people aged 18 and older. It showed 51 percent were supportive of the amendment, while 47 percent were against it.

Academics have pointed out that the ongoing battle against outbreaks of COVID-19 may have led more people to lean toward supporting the amendment. Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have called for an active debate on the clause, which is stipulated in the supreme laws of countries such as France and Germany.

Although the survey showed 61 percent of the respondents think the Constitution needs to be altered, 58 percent were against doing so under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while 40 percent were ready to give such a move the greenlight.

Of the 3,000 people, 2,003 had responded by April 10 with 1,899 of the responses treated as valid — a response rate of 63.3 percent.

The LDP, led by Abe, compiled in March 2018 a plan to amend four elements of the Constitution, which has not been revised since it took effect in 1947. The introduction of the emergency clause was one of the four.

“The results show people believe the government should swiftly and efficiently respond to emergency situations such as pandemics and major disasters,” said Yukio Tomii, a Tokyo Metropolitan University professor specializing in public law.

“But even under the current Constitution, we can create a system that strengthens the Cabinet’s power while limiting restrictions on human rights to a bare minimum,” he said. “We must consider a better system without making the constitutional amendment a basis of debate.”

The 2018 plan also called for a clarification of the role of the country’s Self-Defense Forces in the war-renouncing Article 9, the ending of mergers of certain electoral districts for Upper House elections and provisions for enhancing education.

Under Article 9, which renounces the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes, the SDF’s legal status has been controversial. Abe has long called for an explicit reference to the SDF in a revision to the supreme law, to bring an “end to the debate over the constitutionality” of Japanese troops.

Among survey respondents, a total of 49 percent said they felt Article 9 needed to be amended, while 47 percent said that wasn’t necessary.

The survey asked the 49 percent in favor of Article 9 amendment to name their priority for such a move.

Forty percent pointed to clearly stating the existence of the SDF, followed by 22 percent calling for a clause to restrict the overseas activities of Japanese troops. Twenty one percent said they wanted the SDF to be declared a military force, reviewing the nation’s basic principle of not maintaining an armed force with war potential.

Asked whether Abe’s government had been hindered by doubts over the constitutionality of the SDF, 54 percent said no, while 43 percent said it had.

Regarding mergers of certain electoral districts for the House of Councillors elections, aimed at rectifying disparities in the weight of votes, 35 percent called for eliminating the mergers by amending the Constitution, while 44 percent sought a complete overhaul of the electoral system through other law revisions.

Every one of Japan’s 47 prefectures used to have one Upper House electoral district. But since an election in July 2016, constituencies in the sparsely populated prefectures of Tottori and Shimane as well as Tokushima and Kochi have been merged.

The LDP wants a constitutional revision so that at least one Upper House member is elected from each prefecture.

The ruling party’s proposal to inscribe in the Constitution free education for all and enhance educational provision gained limited support in the survey, at 30 percent, with 69 percent saying such goals can be realized through ordinary laws.

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