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Editorial: Constitutional commissions at Diet must have productive discussions

  • October 19, 2016
  • , The Japan News , 8:05 p.m.
  • English Press

We would like to praise the fact that a forum has at last been prepared for the Diet to take up discussions aimed at amending the Constitution, which will see the 70th anniversary of its establishment on Nov. 3.


The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to resume discussions at the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution within this month at the earliest. It will be the first time since June last year for substantial deliberations to be made at the commission.


Total amendment of the Constitution is not a possibility; it can only be amended item by item. Once a draft for revising the top law is approved by the commissions on the Constitution in both the House of Councillors and the lower house, amendment procedures must be initiated by the Diet through a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of all members of each chamber. After that, the draft must receive the approval of a majority of all votes cast in a national referendum.


Taking these high hurdles into consideration, it is essential for both the ruling and opposition parties to make efforts to form a broad consensus with regards to the articles to be amended and their contents.


During the upper house election in July, the confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties intensified as the opposition Democratic Party unilaterally laid out a goal of “preventing those forces in favor of amending the Constitution from securing two-thirds of the upper house seats.”


At the commissions on the Constitution, both camps need to discuss the issues more level-headedly. Parties should share a common awareness of the issue: to improve Japan’s supreme law.


Both camps have agreed to resume discussions at the commission because the Liberal Democratic Party decided that while it considers the draft revision worked out in 2012 by its headquarters tasked with promoting constitutional amendment to be its official document, the ruling party will not submit the draft to the commission as it is.


Build trust among parties


As the draft has stipulated the maintenance of a “national defense force” and making the Emperor the head of state, it has a strong conservative hue. The DP had demanded the withdrawal of the LDP’s draft as a precondition for it agreeing to discussions on amendment.


It is a matter of course for each party to compile a draft amendment of its own, so it is unreasonable for a party to call for the withdrawal of the entire draft of another party, on the grounds that it does not like its contents. The LDP’s compromise to the DP, made because the ruling party prioritized the resumption of the commissions’ discussions, can be considered a mature response.


The commission is expected to take up for discussion, for the time being, such themes as constitutionalism, the limitation of constitutional amendments and the ideal form for the judiciary to judge the unconstitutionality of a law, and hold a question-and-answer session attended by unsworn witnesses and a free discussion. Later, they will address issues concerning suffrage, such as vote-value disparities and an extension of Diet members’ terms in the case of a contingency.


It will be reasonable to first take up for discussion those themes which the opposition parties prioritize, while leaving the work of narrowing down amendment items until later on.


Perceptions of constitutionalism also became a point of confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties over the pros and cons of the government’s interpretation of the Constitution during the Diet deliberation on the security-related legislation last year.


We hope both camps will this time avoid repeating a futile debate like the one they had last year. They must listen to opinions that are different from theirs and hold productive discussions.


The constitutional commissions have a tradition of showing the greatest respect to even those views held by a minority group within the Diet, and striving to steer the discussions in a fair and amiable manner. It is important to rebuild the relationships of trust between the ruling and opposition parties and improve the environment for discussions on constitutional amendment.

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