The Liberal Democratic Party recently came under public criticism for “going to extremes” in its bid to update the Constitution, Japan’s first democratic charter that took effect in 1947. The criticism has prompted the party to alter its plans for constitutional reform. The party appears to have recognized the need to exercise due caution in its attempt to draft a revision bill.

On Tuesday, the LDP launched the “Headquarters for the Promotion of the Establishment of a New Constitution,” a task force headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. “The time has come to create a new Constitution that meets the needs of a new era,” Mr. Koizumi said at the group’s inaugural meeting.

The drafting committee for the task force is set to start full-fledged debate in due course. Subcommittees are to discuss specific subjects, such as the Imperial system, national security measures, and the rights and duties of the Japanese people.

The task force plans to issue an interim report around next May, when the Constitutional Review Council, in both houses of the Diet, is expected to publish its final reports. Initially, the LDP had wanted to work out a rough draft before the end of the year. Now it wants to unveil a preliminary draft at November’s party convention marking its 50th anniversary.

One reason for the delay is that the LDP panel on constitutional reform has been sharply criticized, both inside and outside the party, for presenting proposals that emphasized the superiority of the Lower House over the Upper House — proposals that, in the eyes of Upper House members, amounted to the denial of the bicameral system. One statement in the panel’s draft, for example, said that an Upper House member could not become a state minister.

Not surprisingly, the draft — which was reportedly prepared without close consultation with LDP members of the Upper House — has seriously undermined the panel’s credibility, making it difficult for the party to draw up a unified version. The panel’s chairman, former Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka, has been forced to retract the draft.

The draft also contained contentious proposals from ranking officers of the Self-Defense Forces that would enable Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense and to participate in collective security systems. These proposals, it was revealed, had been made at the request of Mr. Gen Nakatani, chairman of the panel’s drafting committee and former director general of the Defense Agency.

Mr. Nakatani defended his action, saying: “I only asked them to help politicians in their research (on security issues). There’s no problem because it was a private request.” In a similar vein, Prime Minister Koizumi said there is “nothing wrong with seeking the views of experts on certain subjects.” Such statements, though, appear to cloak a desire to give uniformed officials a larger say in the discussion of defense and security affairs.

Earlier, Mr. Nakatani’s successor, Mr. Shigeru Ishiba, showed a similar inclination. In an address at the graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy in March, Mr. Ishiba said SDF members have “a duty, not just a right, to express their views on matters in which they have specialized knowledge.”

Going a step further, Mr. Ishiba later suggested a need to appoint an SDF officer as “defense counselor,” a Defense Agency post now held exclusively by civilians. This comment, along with the defense academy address, was seen as a veiled attempt to expand the powers of SDF officers within the agency.

The nation’s defense forces are subject to strict constitutional restraints. How to control the military is a fundamental question for a democratic state. The participation of SDF officers in the constitutional drafting process could represent a departure from the principle of civilian control. It could also constitute a violation of Article 99 of the Constitution, which requires public officials to “respect and uphold” the national charter.

It is only natural that the LDP’s original draft — which raised constitutional questions — has been put in mothballs. The only alternative is to start over under a new setup. Although the discredited panel on constitutional reform has managed to survive, it will limit itself to secondary activities, such as research and taking surveys.

The new drafting committee, chaired by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, is a powerful body that includes former Prime Ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone and Kiichi Miyazawa, former secretaries general of the LDP and heads of the party’s regional chapters. “Discussions on a constitutional revision have grown to maturity,” Mr. Mori said.

All this makes it clear that the No. 1 ruling party is going all out to amend the Constitution. The drafting process, however, could be delayed given the unwieldy size of the committee, which is likely to comprise 70 to 80 members. But that will be far better than rushing the work for the sake of efficiency.

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