Constitutional values at stake

On the occasion of Constitution Day (May 3), which commemorates the current Constitution’s having taking effect on the same day in 1947, various political parties issued statements.

Although it is not that all the statements specifically mention Article 96 of the Constitution, it is clear that in view of recent statements by political leaders, what to do with the article is the most important issue in today’s political discussions and will be the focal point of the Upper House election this summer.

The Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party are seeking ways to make it easier to revise the Constitution by first changing Article 96, a clause designed to prevent an imprudent revision of the Constitution. It cannot be emphasized too much that this is an extremely dangerous move. These parties ignore the highly important fact that a constitution is a mechanism to prevent the power of the government from subjecting people to arbitrary policies or autocratic rule.

If Article 96 is changed as these parties demand, it will become quite easy for the government and the Diet to undermine the basic principles of the Constitution, such as the principle that sovereignty resides with the people, the guaranteeing of crucial rights of the people — freedom of thought, speech and expression, freedom of assembly and association, freedom from arbitrary arrests, etc. — as well as the no-war principle.

Article 96 says that an amendment to the Constitution must be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House, and then must be submitted to the people for ratification, which requires the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast at a special referendum. Those three parties want to change the article so that amendments to the Constitution can be initiated with a concurring vote of a simple majority in each House.

From Mr. Abe’s past statements, it is evident that his ultimate goal is to change the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. It is highly irresponsible for any politician to create an impression that Japan’s current defense setup under the current Constitution is insufficient to cope with an emergency. A change to Article 9 as called for by the LDP will only increase tension in this region and will undermine Japan’s security. First and foremost, the government must solve international problems through diplomacy. Under the LDP’s draft constitution, it will become possible to deploy Japan’s “National Defense Force” overseas for military actions almost without any restrictions. This carries the danger of turning Japan into a nation that will actively wage war abroad.

The draft also restricts freedom of assembly and association and freedom of speech and expression by prohibiting activities and organizations “that harm public interests and public order.” It even intrudes into the sphere of citizens’ private lives by saying that “family members must help each other.” Citizens should not forget that if Article 96 is weakened, a day may arrive when Japan will become a highly repressive society in which people’s right to protest government policies will be extremely limited.

  • The primary problem is not that these political parties want to change the constitution which gives them unfettered power; the problem is that we think legislative assemblies should function with arbitrary powers at all. The problem is that extortionary ‘numbers’ rather than rationality are the standard of value. That arises because:

    1. People are disenfranchised from process

    2. Required to give a moral sanction akin to power of attorney for such arbitrary rule

    3. People think rationality is subjective – as opposed to contextual

    • zer0_0zor0

      Your first sentence is somewhat incoherent with respect to the phrase “which gives them arbitrary power”. The constitution sets the framework within with the executive branch–the branch of government usual accused of exercising arbitrary power–is allowed to act. The judicial branch of government checks the power of the executive branch with respect to the law, of which the constitution is the foundation.

      As the article makes clear, Article 96 of the Constitution prevents the exercise of power in an arbitrary manner. And I don’t see where anyone has expressed the somewhat bizarre thought that “legislative assemblies should function with arbitrary power”.

      The legislative branch of the government creates legislation based on the constitution. The fact that the current administration is pushing to undermine Article 96 of the Constitution would tend to indicate that they intend to exercise power in an arbitrary manner.

  • nobuo takamura

    It says that a constitution is to prevent the power of the government from subjecting people to arbitrary policies or autocratic rules. Absolutely right. Suppose a group of 3, 7 and 9 are arguing for or against some proposal. The larger the group becomes, the more tenuous the value of one person is, meaning that when it comes to as fair a decision as possible based on all the members of the group, a two-thirds criterion is sure to be preferred to a half as far as all the members sincerely hope to come as close to the ideal as possible. It takes a lot of time to come to a happier conclusion for all.

  • zer0_0zor0

    The draft also restricts freedom of assembly and association and freedom of speech and expression by prohibiting activities and organizations “that harm public interests and public order.”

    That statement is a clear attack on the fundamental civil liberties that define a democracy.
    The “public interests” of society are determined through the democratic political process in a democracy, not by the current regime (er, administration).

    The constitution guarantees civil liberties and underpins the democratic political process. An attack on the constitution is an attack on democracy.