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The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the nation’s main opposition group, was grilled Thursday in the first parliamentary commission debate on proposed constitutional reform since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office in October.

The CDP, unenthusiastic about constitutional revision, was on the defensive in the day’s debate in the Lower House of the Diet, parliament’s formal name.

The meeting of the House of Representatives’ Commission on the Constitution followed the Oct. 31 Lower House election, in which parties advocating for constitutional reform increased their seats, namely the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling camp, as well as the opposition groups the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).

At the meeting, the LDP first called for adding to the Constitution an emergency situation clause, an issue that has grown in prominence due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Komeito, the LDP’s partner in the ruling coalition, expressed its support, as did the DPP. The DPP proposed the establishment of a subcommittee to accelerate debate on the issue.

Nippon Ishin, meanwhile, sought reform to Japan’s system of governance through constitutional revision.

The CDP, for its part, said that the country should prioritize debate on restricting television commercials related to referendums on constitutional revision.

Soichiro Okuno of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan speaks at the Lower House Commission on the Constitution on Thursday. | KYODO
Soichiro Okuno of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan speaks at the Lower House Commission on the Constitution on Thursday. | KYODO

Former internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo of the LDP indicated that his party aims to realize its four-point amendment draft, including a clear stipulation on the Self-Defense Forces in the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

“The (envisaged) emergency situation clause would also cover the issues of maintaining Diet functions, such as extending lawmakers’ terms and bringing parliamentary sessions online,” Shindo said, adding that the matter has attracted “keen interest” from the public.

“It’s important to maintain parliamentary functions during a national crisis, such as a large-scale disaster,” said Kazuo Kitagawa, deputy leader of Komeito.

“The swift enactment of emergency legislative measures and budgets is the most important duty of the Diet,” Kitagawa added.

DPP head Yuichiro Tamaki said that rules on how much power the state can have during a crisis should be created through constitutional amendment, which requires a national referendum.

Nobuyuki Baba, co-leader of Nippon Ishin, explained his party’s three-point constitutional amendment draft, including plans to reform governance systems and provide free education.

Baba also said that Kishida should release a detailed schedule on constitutional revision and lead moves to review the supreme law.

Meanwhile, Soichiro Okuno of the CDP said that the country should consider what the Constitution lacks and discuss subjects one at a time with a clean slate.

“We’re against discussions centered around the four-point (amendment draft),” he added.

The CDP then met with a barrage of questions from parties supporting constitutional reform.

The LDP asked the CDP’s opinion about the emergency clause, while Komeito urged the CDP to accept speedy talks on the issue. Nippon Ishin proposed setting up a subcommittee and demanded to know the CDP’s opinion on it.

Speaking to reporters, Shindo said the LDP regards Nippon Ishin and the DPP as cooperative forces on constitutional reform.

Thursday’s meeting was held after the CDP accepted strong requests from Nippon Ishin and the LDP to hold such talks during the ongoing extraordinary Diet session.

As the session is set to end on Tuesday, full-fledged talks on constitutional amendment are expected to start in or after the next ordinary session, which is to be convened in January.

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