(Asahi: January 22, 2016 – p. 3)
By Hisashi Ishimatsu, Yusaku Miyazaki
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been making positive remarks about constitutional revision. He stressed at the House of Councillors on Jan. 21 that “the debate on revision has moved to a realistic phase.” He had spoken cautiously on this subject before the unpopular security laws were enacted last fall, but has gradually raised his tone since then. This is for the sake of the House of Councillors in summer.
In response to a query from a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker, Abe stated at the Upper House Audit Committee on Jan. 21: “In connection with drafting a new constitution with our own hands, we have finally moved to a new realistic stage with regard to which provisions need to be amended.”
His statements no longer stop at the question of whether the Constitution needs to be revised; he is now seeking a debate to identify the provisions to be changed, on the assumption that the constitutional revision will indeed be carried out. Diet members close to Abe believe that he intends to champion this cause personally and initiate an active discussion on constitutional revision in the run-up to the Upper House election this summer.
Abe has been observed to be shifting to a more proactive approach since last November, during the Upper House Budget Committee sessions held while the Diet was in recess. He mentioned that one possible amendment is national emergency provisions governing the government’s powers during a major disaster or war. He went as far as terming this an “extremely serious and important issue.”
The background to this is the change in the alignment of forces with regard to constitutional revision. Until last year, Abe was making cautiously statements, such as “it is important for the people to deepen their understanding of constitutional revision.” He had not eliminated the option of building a broad consensus that will include the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). However, the DPJ had accused him of “undermining constitutionalism” in relation to the security laws passed last September. The party indicated that it is opposed to constitutional revision under the Abe administration.
Therefore, Abe changed his strategy. In addition to Komeito, he began to cultivate cooperation with Initiatives from Osaka [Osaka Ishin no Kai], which holds views close to his on this issue.
Abe stated during a NHK TV program on Jan. 10: “I would like to form a two-thirds majority that includes not only the LDP and Komeito, but also people with a strong sense of responsibility who favor constitutional revision.” He thus indicated his intent to cooperate with Osaka Ishin in order to secure a two-thirds majority necessary for submitting motions to amend the Constitution.
The DPJ, which has both constitutional revision proponents and opponents among its ranks, is seeking an alliance of opposition parties that will include even the Japanese Communist Party in the upcoming Upper House election. It is believed that Abe’s statement was also meant to check such moves in the opposition and to divide opposition forces.
However, certain Komeito members who have reservations about constitutional amendment have also objected to Abe’s stance. Yoshio Urushihara, head of the party’s central executive council, asserted at a news conference on Jan. 21: “The Diet’s Commissions on the Constitution should take charge of (the discussion on constitutional revision).” The Commissions of both houses of the Diet are unable to convene due to the opposition of the DPJ and others.
Three years ago, Abe called for revising Article 96 of the Constitution to reduce the two-thirds majority required for submitting amendment motions to a simple majority but had to give up in the face of public backlash. Some LDP members are concerned that “if the Prime Minister plays too prominent a role, he may repeat the same mistake,” according to a veteran lawmaker.
The Osaka Ishin headed by Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui appears to be falling in step with Abe. This party intends to field candidates nationwide, particularly in the Kinki region, in the Upper House election. Former leader Toru Hashimoto urged the party’s Diet members to win two-thirds of Upper House seats with the LDP and Komeito at a meeting in December.
Matsui supported the national emergency provisions that Abe favors on Jan. 21. He said: “Since it is necessary to be prepared for the worst, we need to discuss this matter in depth.” (Slightly abridged)