The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s draft constitutional amendment has become so ill-reputed that it is now being treated as a “historic document.” Still, the 2012 draft remains a heavy burden on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pursuit of revising the nation’s supreme statute while he’s in office. The LDP’s inability to effectively shelve the draft as invalid continues to keep its coalition partner Komeito as well as opposition parties on guard over the issue.
The draft amendment was essentially penned by Yosuke Isozaki, deputy head of the LDP’s Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters, while the LDP was out of power and before Abe returned to the party’s helm in September 2012. The problem with the document was that it did not receive full scrutiny of Abe, who, in his pursuit of constitutional revision, entrusted Isozaki to work out its details. Meanwhile, Sadakazu Tanigaki, the LDP president at the time the draft was unveiled, was also indifferent to the text.
What particularly raises alarm among constitutional scholars and opposition parties about the LDP draft is its provision that would enable the state to restrict certain human rights in times of emergency. It also calls for deleting Article 97, which upholds the inviolability of the fundamental human rights, on grounds that the Western concept of God-given human rights does not sit well with Japanese traditions — yet another indication of the draft’s precarious sensitivity toward human rights issues.
The LDP draft would also amend Article 13, which states “All of the people shall be respected as individuals,” to read “… as humans” instead. This has incurred an outcry from opponents of constitutional revisions that the LDP draft would deny individualism and usher in totalitarianism. These are examples of the criticism that the LDP draft would backpedal on the Constitution’s call on those in power to act with restraint — which make it difficult for Komeito to endorse the draft.
Following the July 10 Upper House election, proponents of constitutional revision now hold a two-third majority in both chambers of the Diet — enough to initiate an amendment for approval in a national referendum. But a major contributor to the ruling coalition’s big wins was the power of Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization and the organized supporter of Komeito. Soka Gakkai’s solid voting machine flexed its muscles in the campaign to secure seats for all seven Komeito candidates running in constituency races across the country.
Many of the group’s members are believed unhappy with the way the Komeito leaders followed Abe’s policies on sensitive issues like reinterpreting the Constitution to allow Japan to engage in collective self-defense and enactment of the security legislation. The energy they spent on the campaign was a reflection of their hope that Komeito would not need to meekly follow the LDP once the party has a greater say within the ruling coalition. The Komeito leadership can hardly ignore such expectations among Soka Gakkai members.
As such, the 2012 LDP draft revision is an easy target of criticism for Komeito. There’s also the benefit that since the draft was revealed before Abe’s return to the LDP leadership, criticizing the document won’t lead to directly criticizing Abe. The opposition Democratic Party, which pledged during the campaign not to permit any constitutional amendment under Abe’s watch, is urging the LDP to withdraw the draft as a condition for starting deliberations at the commissions on the Constitution in both chambers of the Diet.
Under these circumstances, it may seem reasonable for the LDP to effectively invalidate the draft amendment — both as a means of narrowing the gap with Komeito and of opening the way for the DP, which includes some conservative members ready to weigh constitutional amendments, to join the Diet discussions.
Blocking such an opportunity are diehards within the LDP — led by Isozaki. Well versed in legal matters, the internal affairs ministry bureaucrat-turned Upper House member has long supported Abe. He played a leading role in the Abe administration’s reinterpretation of the Constitution and in preparing the security legislation.
Isozaki has dismissed calls for revising the text of the LDP draft amendment by insisting that the draft, compiled while the party was out of power, has become a “historic document” and, therefore, cannot be altered. That same phrase was used previously when, in the LDP’s brief fall from power in 1993, its liberal-leaning members led by deputy chief Masaharu Gotoda compiled a new party platform and called the old platform a “historic document” to placate the right-wing members who insisted that the old platform remains valid. Isozaki’s statement appears to reflect his wish to keep the 2012 draft valid to prepare for the time when the LDP will talk with other parties to create a new draft amendment.
Abe himself does not seem to think that the 2012 draft would be endorsed as it is. Nor does he appear ready to scrap it altogether because he says discussions on constitutional revision should be pursued with other parties on the basis of the LDP proposal.
Because of the seemingly nationalistic nature of the LDP draft, it has been rumored that the Japan Conference (Nippon Kaigi), a right-wing group reputedly influencing the Abe administration from behind the scenes, was involved in writing the text. No evidence has turned up to substantiate the speculation, however. Some lawmakers close to Abe and associated with the Japan Conference were in fact among members of the LDP panel that prepared the text. Article 24 of the LDP draft states, “A family shall be respected as a natural and basic unit of society and families shall help each other.” This is said to reflect the family values entertained by Abe and the Japan Conference, but there is no trace of Isozaki having been instructed by either of them to write the provision. Isozaki is believed to have written the section with the help of some Diet staff members.
Abe sees some value in the draft because he can deflect the criticism against his pursuit of constitutional amendment as yet another of his administration’s right-leaning policies, by emphasizing that the draft was created when the more liberal Tanigaki was LDP president. Abe mostly relies on Isozaki for interpretation of the draft — and does not appear to have digested its details in full.
Tanigaki himself has been slow in coping with criticisms against the draft, even though he knew its contents can be a potential minefield. Perhaps he feels guilty that he authorized the text as party chief too easily. There were three provisions that the party’s constitution panel specifically asked Tanigaki to peruse: to specify the Emperor as the head of state, to position the Self-Defense Forces as the national defense force, and to give official status to the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” as the national flag and anthem. Some expected Tanigaki to raise objections, but he did not. This indicates that he was not all that much interested in the party’s draft amendment.
Isozaki claims that the 2012 draft is a result of more than 70 meetings held by members of the panel and subpanel, along with three sessions of the party’s decision-making General Council. In fact, only a handful of LDP lawmakers were seriously involved in these discussions.
If the LDP remains incapable of scrapping such a half-hearted draft amendment — and as a result doing nothing to dispel the impression that its nationalistic characters lie at the heart of Abe’s call for revising the Constitution, that would only show that his administration has no effective strategy on amending the Constitution and that no constructive debate on that subject can be hoped for.
This is an abridged translation of an article from the August issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering political, social and economic scenes. English articles of the magazine can be read at www.sentaku-en.com .