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Editorial: Abe wrong to hastily seek revision of Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9

The House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution has postponed deliberations originally scheduled for May 11. This is because opposition parties protested against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for instructing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to draw up a draft of a new Constitution to clearly define the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in war-renouncing Article 9.


Quite a few legislators with opposition parties support the idea of adding a paragraph defining the existence of the SDF to Article 9 while retaining war-renouncing paragraph 1 and paragraph 2 that bans Japan from possessing any potential for war. Nevertheless, opposition parties reacted sharply to Abe’s move because the prime minister called for hasty revisions to the supreme law by bypassing previous debate between ruling and opposition parties.


In a video message at a gathering of an organization in favor of constitutional revisions on Constitution Day on May 3, the prime minister declared that he seeks to have revised Article 9 come into force in 2020. On the other hand, the prime minister declined to provide a clear explanation of his intentions behind his proposal, instead urging an opposition legislator to thoroughly read an interview with him run by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper for his thoughts on the matter.


The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) protested to the prime minister for making light of the Diet. However, Abe responded by saying, “I’d like you to submit specific proposals to the commissions on the Constitution” in both chambers of the Diet.


The commissions on the Constitution have prioritized efforts to form a consensus on constitutional revisions between ruling and opposition parties. They have also respected tacit consent passed down by their predecessors, research commissions on the Constitution, not to use constitutional amendments for political means. This is based on the basic idea that a broad national consensus is indispensable for revisions to the supreme law.


It is extremely abnormal that the head of the executive branch of the government has announced a specific policy for revising the Constitution in disregard of the Diet that has the authority to propose constitutional amendments. This has demonstrated that the prime minister is belittling rules on constitutional debate in the Diet.


Some LDP legislators, particularly those close to the prime minister, are frustrated at the commissions on the Constitution that have failed to narrow down items to be subject to constitutional revisions. Some lawmakers are calling for moving ahead with constitutional revisions while those in favor of amendments have two-thirds of seats in both chambers, a prerequisite for initiating revisions. Others say the lower chamber should be dissolved for a snap general election if the DP were to oppose revisions.


A draft of constitutional revisions drawn up by the LDP in 2012 would fundamentally rewrite paragraph 2 of Article 9 to clearly provide for the establishment of national defense forces. One cannot help but wonder whether the LDP will follow the prime minister’s proposal in the absence of intraparty debate on whether to retract its 2012 draft.


At the lower house Commission on the Constitution, the LDP explained that the prime minister’s recent proposal is only aimed at party members, and clarified that the panels are not bound by the 2020 target year for enforcing an amended Constitution. As such, there is no doubt that there will be inconsistencies between intraparty discussions on the issue and deliberations at the commissions.


The prime minister has criticized the postwar Constitution, saying the supreme law was forced upon Japan by the Allied Powers. However, the prime minister deserves criticism that he is forcing revisions to Article 9 on the political world without holding in-depth debate within the LDP and between ruling and opposition parties.


Prime Minister Abe should be aware that his remarks on constitutional revisions have destroyed the foundation for calm discussions on the issue.

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