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Ruling, opposition parties react differently to Abe’s constitutional revision plans

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announcement of his plan to revise Article 9 of the Constitution and aim for the promulgation of the amended Constitution in 2020 has created a stir in the ruling and opposition parties. Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members have expressed concerns about consistency with intraparty discussions so far, while Komeito also finds itself in a dilemma. It is also thought that Abe’s announcement is meant to sow discord in the Democratic Party (DP), which is divided on the issue of constitutional revision.


Abe reiterated his strong desire to revise the Constitution at a LDP executive meeting on May 8, telling his colleagues: “Constitutional revision is a basic policy of our party since its founding. It is the long-cherished dream of past presidents and all party members.”


However, there are dissenting opinions in the party on Abe’s proposal to retain the first and second paragraphs of Article 9 but add a third paragraph on the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Discussions in the LDP so far on the revision of Article 9 have centered on changing the second paragraph’s provision on not maintaining any military force. The party’s draft proposals for constitutional revision put together in 2012 called for deleting this provision and designating the SDF as a national defense force.


There is also criticism of how Abe is handling this issue. Former House of Representatives Speaker Bunmei Ibuki stated on a BS Fuji TV program on the evening of May 8: “It’s a bit regrettable that he did not run this by the party as an organization,” indicating that Abe’s announcement was abrupt.


Komeito would have wanted to put off a head-on debate on revising Article 9. It had a tough time managing its relationship with the pacifist Soka Gakkai, its main support group, when the security laws were being processed. However, this party is an advocate of “adding” constitutional provisions and has been discussing inserting a provision on the constitutional status of the SDF. A senior party official points out, “He has picked the one issue that our party is undecided about.”


Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda points out that “by creating a stir in the stagnant debate in the Diet’s Commissions on the Constitution,” Abe is also aiming at sowing division in the DP.


The DP is eyeing a united front of the opposition parties in the next Lower House election. However, to prioritize this united front, it will have to give greater emphasis to its opposition to constitutional revision. A more active debate on this issue may translate into intraparty upheaval.


Former Deputy President Goshi Hosono commended Abe’s announcement to a certain extent in his blog on May 4, noting, “He has become more flexible than in his previous approach.” DP Secretary General Yoshihiko Noda admitted at a news conference on May 8 that “there are various views in the party” and said, “We are not ready to come up with a straightforward answer at this stage.”


Meanwhile, Nippon Ishin [Japan Innovation Party] leader, Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui stated at the Osaka prefectural government office: “It is the duty of both houses of the Diet to submit motions for constitutional revision while (the forces in favor of revision control) a two-thirds majority,” indicating understanding for Abe’s plans. This was in reciprocation for Abe’s positive remark on free education, which is the main pillar of the party’s draft proposals for constitutional amendment.


It appears that Abe’s announcement was also meant to co-opt Nippon Ishin while putting pressure on Komeito. (Slightly abridged)

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