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Column: Abe now talking openly about constitutional revision

(Tokyo Shimbun: February 4, 2016 – p. 3)


 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mentioned the need to revise paragraph 2 of Article 9 of the Constitution on Japan’s non-maintenance of any military force and to have clear provisions on the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) at the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Feb. 3. Abe, who is aiming at making constitutional revision an issue in the House of Councillors election this summer, had so far not mentioned the revision of any specific constitutional provision and had merely called for the ruling and opposition parties and the public to engage in an debate. He has now changed his approach and is openly talking about the revision of Article 9, which is his real goal.


 Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Policy Research Council Chairperson Tomomi Inada pointed out at the committee that 70% of constitutional scholars regard the SDF to be unconstitutional and that Article 9 is no longer valid. Abe immediately asserted the need to revise Article 9. He cited the LDP’s draft proposal to rename the SDF “national defense force” and stressed that, “Constitutional revision is not decided by a majority vote in the Diet but by the people’s vote in a referendum. It is irresponsible for members of the Diet to not even present proposals for the people to decide on.”


 Diet interpellations by ruling party members are often in cooperation with the cabinet. This is also an occasion for the administration to highlight issues on which it wants to appeal to the people. Inada, in particular, is a close confidant of Abe who shares his conservative political ideology. She is even rumored to be a possible successor to Abe in the LDP. This exchange between the two was a clear sign that the LDP will persist in working for the revision of Article 9.


 Although Abe wants to make constitutional revision a point of contention in the Upper House election this summer, he had so far refrained from discussing Article 9. This is because there has been a serious public backlash to the authorization of the exercise of the right to collective self-defense through a reinterpretation of the Constitution — which many constitution scholars consider to be unconstitutional and which was prohibited by previous administrations — and the enactment of the security laws. Judging that going into the subject of revising Article 9 might compromise the chances of constitutional revision, Abe had so far not mentioned any specific constitutional provision to be revised.


 Instead, forces in favor of revision in the LDP and other groups have come up with provisions that can win the support of the opposition and the people more easily. A typical example is the provision on national emergencies, such as war or major disasters. Abe also admitted that this is a “serious and important subject.” He has been watching the public’s reaction to this.


 But now, Abe has clearly stated that the LDP’s proposal to revise Article 9 is a “blueprint for the future.” He has thus indicated to his supporters that he is eyeing the revision of Article 9 after the national emergency provision.


 A LDP Diet member close to Abe said that, “The Prime Minister’s real goal is Article 9, but he will promote constitutional revision without revealing his true intent.” (Slightly abridged)

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