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Constitution should enshrine civilian control of SDF: LDP vice pres.

TOKYO — The vice president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is working on a proposal to amend the postwar Constitution for the first time, says the principle of civilian control over the country’s Self-Defense Forces should be made clear through an addition to the war-renouncing Article 9.


“We should put in writing the relationship between (the SDF), and the Cabinet and parliament,” LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura told Kyodo News in a recent interview.


Since its founding in 1955, the LDP has aimed to change the Constitution, which was drawn up during the U.S.-led occupation after World War II and came into force in 1947. Prime Minister and LDP President Shinzo Abe and like-minded lawmakers see the document as having been imposed on the Japanese people.


Komura is playing a central role in the process as an adviser on the party’s constitutional reform panel.


Abe suggested in May that an explicit mention of the status of the SDF be added to Article 9, while retaining the article’s existing clauses that prohibit Japan from waging war or maintaining “war potential.”


Building on Abe’s proposal, Komura said civilian control should be ensured by new clauses stating that the prime minister has the ultimate command over the SDF and that the SDF are allowed to operate only within the boundaries of the law.


“One good way of writing it might be, ‘The prime minister, who is the head of the Cabinet, is the commander-in-chief (of the SDF),'” Komura said.

He said the party should consider proposing a requirement for the SDF’s activities to be approved by the Diet.


Komura also said it “would not be out of the question” to allow a conscience vote on an amendment proposal, as long as each party agrees to this during the discussions of the cross-party constitutional commissions of both houses of parliament.


The Constitution requires any proposed amendment to first gain the votes of two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber of the Diet, then a majority of votes in a nationwide referendum.


The idea of clarifying the SDF’s status in Article 9 appears to have potential supporters outside the LDP and its coalition partner the Komeito party, including a number of lawmakers in the main opposition Democratic Party.


“The more agreement there is, the better,” Komura said when asked about the possibility of the LDP consulting other parties before formulating its proposal.


“We need to have discussions with Komeito and the (pro-amendment opposition) Japan Innovation Party,” he said.


He also said there should be “some form of talks” with the Democratic Party.


The LDP’s constitutional reform ambitions have been complicated by a recent drop in support, manifested in its massive loss of seats in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election earlier this month. In a recent Kyodo opinion survey, 54.8 percent of respondents opposed a constitutional amendment under the Abe administration, a sharp rise from 43.4 percent in May.


Komura said the party will endeavor to make sure this development does not delay Abe’s desired timeline for constitutional reform.


The prime minister said in May he wants the revision to take effect by 2020, and last month called on the LDP to compile amendment proposals for discussion during an extraordinary Diet session likely to be convened in the fall of this year.


“We mustn’t give up on (doing) what should be done for the public’s sake,” Komura said. “We will carefully move forward toward our goal.”

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