It is now evident that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Nippon Ishin [Japan Innovation Party] differ in their positions on constitutional revision to provide for free university and other forms of higher education. Free education is Ishin’s signature policy, but the majority of LDP members are opposed to the idea. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to obtain the cooperation of Ishin to secure a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet, which is required for submitting motions for constitutional revision, but this issue may affect cooperation between the two parties.
The LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution is scheduled to resume deliberations on Aug. 29 in order to begin drafting the proposed constitutional amendments, but it is very likely that the party will forego provisions on free higher education.
One reason cited for opposing this idea is the problem of fairness. A senior party official pointed out, “It would be unfair if some young people had their university tuition paid by the government while others started working without receiving higher education. Free education is not desirable as a policy.”
The high cost of this policy, estimated at approximately 3.7 trillion yen each year, is also a reason for opposing it.
This issue had also not been discussed by the LDP until Abe indicated his approval in his policy speech to the Diet last January.
House of Councillors member Shoji Nishida questioned Abe’s stance at the headquarters’ meeting on Aug. 1. He said: “Ishin’s constitutional revision proposal is a bid for popularity. The LDP’s riding on this proposal makes it obvious that it is trying to coopt Ishin as a pro-constitutional revision force, which is dishonest.”
A proposal has come up in the headquarters to simply make reducing students’ financial burden a policy goal under Article 26 of the Constitution, which stipulates the people’s right to receive education.
However, Ishin insists on free tuition. The party’s proposal calls for adding a new Paragraph 3 under Article 26 stipulating free education from early childhood to the tertiary level.
Ishin leader Ichiro Matsui has voiced his displeasure, stating: “It’s fine if (the LDP) is opposed to this proposal. We will make free education our campaign pledge and fight for it.” The party is poised to confront the LDP in the next House of Representatives election on this issue.
While the LDP and Komeito control a two-thirds majority in the Lower House, they will need the cooperation of Ishin and the Party for Japanese Kokoro to secure a two-thirds majority in the Upper House. (Slightly abridged)