In advance of Constitution Day, on Tuesday, research commissions on constitutional reform from both houses of the Diet last month adopted final reports summarizing five years of debate. The Lower House panel focused on amending the supreme law, including revision of the war-renouncing Article 9.
The governing Liberal Democratic Party, which will mark its 50th anniversary in November, and the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan will publish their own proposals for constitutional amendments before yearend. New Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner, will also propose a version of amendments.
Japan’s three major economic organizations have already come up with their own amendment proposals. The LDP, the DPJ and New Komeito have agreed to start discussions on legislation for a national referendum on constitutional amendments. For the first time in its 58-year history, revision of the Constitution is now on the political agenda.
The Lower House panel’s report used the words “majority opinion” in referring to statements that two-thirds of its members agreed on. This relates to the fact that amendments to the Constitution are initiated if with a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of all Diet members.
The largest constitutional issue involves security. The majority opinion was that clause 1 of the war-renouncing Article 9 should be retained. As for clause 2, which disallows Japan to maintain armed forces, the majority favored “taking some constitutional measures” regarding the right of self-defense and the role of the Self-Defense Forces.
On whether Japan can exercise the right of collective defense, which has been prohibited under the constitutional interpretations by post-World War II administrations, panel members split three ways: allow it, do not allow it, or allow it with restrictions. The majority opinion was to either to allow it or allow it with restrictions.
The majority view held that the three principles of people’s sovereignty, pacifism and basic human rights should be retained and that “the inherent history, tradition and cultures of Japan” should be stipulated in the preamble.
Regarding the emperor system, the majority opinion was that the emperor should remain the symbol of the nation without becoming a head of state. Many members said a woman should be allowed to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne. Taro Nakayama, chairman of the Lower House panel, said there was very strong support for a female emperor, noting that Japan has had eight female emperors in its history.
The majority opinion also favored writing new rights such as environmental rights into the Constitution.
Moves to amend the Constitution mirror distortions between the supreme law as written and current realities. As an example, the report mentioned problems with consistency between Article 9 and use of the SDF, particularly with regard to overseas activities.
For example, the Maritime Self-Defense Force deployed state-of-the-art Aegis destroyers in the Indian Ocean in support of wars against terrorist regimes in the Middle East. And SDF troops were dispatched to the Golan Heights and East Timor to assist in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Such deployments were not foreseen when the Constitution was established.
Another question in the Constitution involves differences in the electoral value of individual citizens’ votes during parliamentary elections. As Article 14 guarantees equality for all people, a rash of lawsuits in connection with parliamentary elections has stirred political distrust among the public. The Diet report said this and other distortions could undermine the stability of the Constitution.
In January, the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations published a position paper stating that the Constitution should clarify the existence of the SDF and Japan’s right to exercise collective defense. It also said Article 96, regarding conditions for amendments, should be relaxed. The Japan Association of Corporate Executives and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry have also published papers on constitutional amendments.
The Institute of International Policy Studies, chaired by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, in January published a tentative proposal for amendments. Under this proposal, the emperor would be designated head of state while the prime minister would have much stronger power. Japan would be allowed to maintain “forces for self-defense,” take part in multinational forces, and use force overseas, subject to Diet approval.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Masaharu Gotoda, chief Cabinet secretary in the Nakasone administration, argues that the SDF should engage only in self-defense operations and that the Constitution should have a new clause 3 for Article 9 that would ban the use of force overseas.
The Upper House panel’s report included a majority opinion on writing new human rights, but included conflicting arguments about security. It was less vigorous in calling for constitutional amendments, reflecting instead stronger support than the Lower House panel for the wording of the current Constitution.
Yoshito Sengoku, the DPJ policy chief, said the significance of the constitutional panel’s debate was whether it transcended the debate between the pro- and anti-Constitution forces in the two-party system dating back to the 1950s. The LDP and the Japan Socialist Party were the dominant parties then.
The LDP, DPJ and New Komeito legislators, who account for 90 percent of the total membership in the Upper House, favor revising the Constitution in some form. The Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party oppose revising Article 9. The confrontation between protectionist and revisionists forces has changed a great deal since the heyday of the two-party system.
Political parties are divided over amendments. Within the DPJ, wide differences of opinion exist, especially over security matters — between conservatives who advocate amendments and former Socialists wary of such moves. Difficulty is expected in coordinating opinions.
New Komeito favors recognizing the SDF’s constitutionality and clarifying its international contributions. It calls for the retention of Article 9 and rejection of the right of collective self-defense.
In 2007, Upper House elections will be held and the terms of all Lower House legislators will end. Debate then on constitutional amendments could spark political realignment. The Diet should reorganize the research commissions and establish standing committees empowered to initiate amendments. Political parties should propose specific amendments to start national debate. That is the responsibility of the “highest organ of state power” as specified under Article 41 of the Constitution.
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