Discussions on amending the Constitution have been resumed by the Diet panels on the issue for the first time since the July Upper House election gave Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition and other pro-revision forces the two-thirds majority in both Diet chambers needed to initiate an amendment for approval by a national referendum. While Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party seek to seize the opportunity to make the first revision to the nation’s supreme law since it was introduced in 1947, no political consensus has emerged as to which part of the Constitution needs to be changed and why — even among the parties that favor amendment.
As far as media surveys show, there doesn’t seem to be any pressing broad-based public calls for specific amendments. Abe, who openly calls for revising the Constitution while he is in office, says it is the “duty of Diet members” to propose a draft amendment to the people. But the Constitution should not be amended for the sake of amendment based on the political window of opportunity that the Diet majority of his ruling coalition and its allies offer. Lawmakers on the Diet panels should not rush their discussions — the Constitution is the foundation of the nation’s governance system and people’s lives — much less try to force a partisan decision on majority strength.
The Diet Commissions on the Constitution have been effectively dormant for much of the years since they were set up in 2007 after the law setting the procedure for national referendums was enacted during Abe’s first stint as prime minister. The panels, comprising lawmakers from ruling and opposition parties, are in the limelight now that Abe and his allies have secured enough Diet seats to propose an amendment. The LDP wants to draw the reluctant opposition into discussions on the specifics of possible amendments by restarting the panels.
Discussions by the panels reopened last week, for the first time in nine months in the Upper House and 17 months in the Lower House, and promptly exposed wide differences among the parties. LDP members took issue with how the Constitution was created after Japan’s World War II defeat based on a draft written by the U.S.-led Occupation authorities — and emphasize the need for Japan to amend the Constitution in its own hand. They pointed out that Article 9, which says “land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential, will never be maintained,” leaves the legal position of the Self-Defense Forces unclear (even though the government has for decades said the Constitution’s renunciation of “war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” does not deny Japan the right to defend itself.)
Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition ally, challenged the common argument of the pro-amendment forces — including Abe himself — that the Constitution must be revised because it was forced on Japan by the Occupation powers, saying that a close review of the process that established the Constitution “clearly shows that it was never unilaterally imposed” on the nation. The party calls for keeping the key principles of the Constitution intact and adding new provisions to address issues that were not covered when it was created.
Nippon Ishin no Kai, another force counted as an ally in Abe’s bid to change the Constitution, called for an overhaul of the nation’s governance system and introduction of free education as its amendment agenda, and urged other parties to prioritize “issues that most people feel are urgent” in their daily lives. Such disparate views suggest that even the pro-amendment political forces are not on the same page.
The opposition Democratic Party, meanwhile, cited the LDP’s draft amendment to the Constitution — released in 2012 while the party was out of power and which calls for sweeping changes to the current text, including Article 9 to provide for Japan to have what it called a national defense force — and charged that the party is out to scrap the current Constitution. The 2012 draft, criticized by many as seeking to restrict people’s individual rights, puts the state before individuals and reflects the LDP’s denial of the principle that a constitution binds state powers, DP members said.
The LDP did not submit the 2012 draft as its proposal to the Diet panels, effectively shelving the text in its attempt to get the opposition parties involved in the discussions, but it’s not clear whether the party has given up on the draft as the basis of its calls for amendment. The DP’s focus on criticism of the LDP and its draft in the discussions, meanwhile, mirrors the party’s own internal division on the issue, which could unfold when the talks at the Diet panels proceed to more specific subjects.
According to a Kyodo News poll taken ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Constitution’s promulgation in 1946, 58 percent of the respondents said an amendment will be necessary — for varying reasons such as that its text should be revised to fit the times and that new rights and obligations need to be incorporated. The pollees are split over Article 9 — 45 percent for changing it and 49 percent against. About 55 percent of the respondents opposed any amendments under Abe’s administration, versus 42 percent who want revision under his watch — apparently reflecting people’s caution against a hasty conclusion to the matter.
The Constitution should be amended only when and where it genuinely needs to be changed. Lawmakers and their parties should consider what specific needs of the people they’re trying to serve as they discuss possible amendments.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.