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.