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Amending the Constitution, which has never been revised since it entered into force on 69 years ago on May 3, no longer appears to be a politically sensitive issue. Since the beginning of the year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vocally championed constitutional change — even to the point of declaring that he hopes to achieve it while he’s in office. He would not hesitate to openly suggest that he has his eyes set on revising the war-renouncing Article 9. Candid remarks by Abe and other senior members of his administration on the issue take on a tinge of reality because his Liberal Democratic Party and its allies are closer than ever to securing a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Diet — the setting needed to initiate an amendment for approval by a national referendum — depending on the outcome of the Upper House election this summer.

But when it comes to specifics on what to change in the Constitution and how, there seems no solid political consensus, even among the LDP and its allies that either advocate or may condone an amendment. Even Abe, who suggested making constitutional revision a campaign issue in the Upper House race, has yet to come forward to specify what part of the Constitution should be changed, how and why, and ask for voters’ endorsement — which he should if he is serious about amending it.

Public opinion remains sharply divided on whether the Constitution should be amended at all, with a broad consensus on specific amendments even more elusive. While the ruling bloc’s dominance of the political landscape may provide a window of opportunity for the proponents of amendment, the time hardly seems ripe for revising the national charter.

Constitutional amendment looms as a campaign issue because of the window of opportunity that might open as a result of the Upper House vote. Abe’s LDP-Komeito alliance already has a two-thirds majority in the Lower House but is far short of that threshold in the upper chamber. Half the Upper House seats are up for grabs in the triennial election set to be held in July, and the ruling bloc will still be short of building the two-thirds majority even if it repeats the performance of its landslide win in the last 2013 election. But the hurdle may not be out of reach if other forces that support an amendment, such as Osaka Ishin no Kai founded by former Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who, though now officially “retired” from politics, has been widely viewed as a potential Abe ally on the issue.

If Abe is to be able to at least initiate constitutional amendment during his tenure, he will need to forge a two-thirds majority coalition of pro-amendment forces in the upcoming election — the last one before his current, and supposedly last, term as LDP president ends in September 2018. The opposition parties meanwhile seek to rally voters’ support behind their bid to stop the LDP and its allies from winning such a majority.

No prime minister before Abe spoke so openly about altering the Constitution, although Abe and other leaders of the LDP emphasize — either in playing up or downplaying their enthusiasm for the bid — that amendment has been in the party’s platform since its founding in 1955. When he was returned as prime minister in 2012 following an earlier short-lived stint, Abe advocated first revising Article 96 to lower the hurdle for initiating an amendment from a two-thirds vote in the Diet to a simple majority. When that call went nowhere, he changed the government’s long-standing interpretation of Article 9 to lift the ban on Japan engaging in collective self-defense, a decision that provided the basis for the security legislation enacted last year to significantly expand the scope of Self-Defense Forces missions overseas.

Abe, who used to advocate what he called a departure from Japan’s postwar regime, appears to suggest that the Constitution should be amended just for the sake of rewriting “in our own hands” the text drafted while Japan was under the Allied Occupation after World War II. He has indicated that longtime charges from scholars that the existence of the SDF violates Article 9 — which says Japan forever renounces “war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” and that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” — should justify amending the Constitution, even though this discrepancy has been left unattended for decades as the government explained that Article 9 does not deny the nation the right to defend itself. At the same time, the prime minister acknowledges that he does not yet see broad public support building up for amending Article 9.

The LDP — whose draft constitutional amendment issued in 2012 called for changing Article 9 to specify that Japan owns a national defense force — does not foresee that amending Article 9 will immediately win broad political support and popular endorsement. LDP lawmakers have earlier suggested that their initial proposal for changing the Constitution will focus on issues that can possibly win consensus support, and then try for the more divisive issues, including Article 9. Giving the government emergency powers in times of a major crisis — as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga suggested as the series of deadly quakes hit Kumamoto Prefecture last month — is said to be among the likely themes of the “initial round” constitutional amendment. It’s widely questioned, however, whether the Constitution has to be amended to give emergency powers to the government in a national crisis.

As it is, all the talk about constitutional amendment appears to be driven by political considerations. The LDP and its allies may indeed have a practical chance of securing the Diet majority in needs to initiate revision. But that does not mean the nation faces an immediate need to amend the Constitution.

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