The Liberal Democratic Party has kicked off discussions among its lawmakers on revising the Constitution, aiming to hammer out a draft amendment in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stated desire to see it enacted by 2020. Their push for an amendment and the time frame they have set do not reflect any grave and pressing problem that the nation can only resolve through constitutional revision. The rush by Abe and his party for an amendment appears to mirror their hope to get the Constitution changed at a time when they can — while the LDP and its pro-amendment allies retain the two-thirds Diet majority needed to put an amendment to a national referendum. They are putting the cart before the horse in dealing with the nation’s supreme law.

Abe clarified his hope for an amendment in a video message shown on May 3 — Constitution Day — to the participants of a rally organized by a conservative group calling for constitutional revision. Singling out the war-renouncing Article 9, the prime minister proposed that a new third clause be added to the article to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

Okiharu Yasuoka, head of the LDP headquarters promoting constitutional revision, has called for accelerating the work to compile an amendment draft that focuses on four points — revising Article 9 to clarify the SDF’s legal status, giving the government emergency powers in the event of a national crisis, making education, including higher education, free of charge and prohibiting the creation of Upper House electoral districts that cover two or more prefectures.

The focal point will certainly be Article 9. Under Abe’s proposal, the current text will be left intact while a new section will be added that accords an unambiguous legal status to the SDF. Section 1 of Article 9 “renounces war as a means of settling international disputes” while Section 2, to achieve the purpose of the preceding section, bans the possession of “land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential.” Abe apparently calculates that his idea will be acceptable to Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner in the ruling coalition, which is cautious about changing Article 9 but is more open to adding new clauses to the Constitution where needed.

Abe cites the legal ambiguities over the SDF’s status as the problem that needs to be eliminated by changing the Constitution. But Abe himself has publicly upheld the position of past government after government that Article 9 does not deny the nation the right to defend itself against enemy attack — and that the existence of the SDF as a minimum necessary force to defend the nation is constitutional. Simply keeping the text of Article 9 intact and adding a new section legitimizing the SDF will not end questions about the force’s status — whether or not it will be the “war potential” that the article says Japan will not possess. Defining the SDF in the Constitution as a force for the nation’s self-defense will raise another question as to whether that will include collective self-defense — since the concept of the right to self-defense under international law includes both individual and collective self-defense. The Abe administration’s reinterpretation of the Constitution in 2014 and its security legislation enacted the following year allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in only a limited manner — when the nation’s own survival is threatened by an enemy attack on its ally.

The party leadership appears to hope to build a party consensus along Abe’s proposed line. However, doubts about the proposal were raised from among some LDP lawmakers who took part in the discussions last week, including the possible inconsistencies with the current provisions of Article 9. Still, Yasuoka has indicated that a draft text for amending the article may be presented to LDP members by the end of August.

Yasuoka has also said “it would be best” if an amendment can be initiated in the Diet “before the end of the regular session next year.” Unless the Lower House is dissolved halfway through its members’ tenure, the two-thirds majority that the LDP-Komeito coalition and its pro-amendment allies have in both Diet chambers will likely be secure through December 2018. Abe and the LDP are apparently pushing for an amendment while they can, instead of trying to build a consensus with other forces through sufficient discussions in the Diet about how and why the Constitution should be amended. That is not the right way to change the Constitution.

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