The coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, retained its two-thirds majority in the Lower House in the Oct. 22 election, again giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the strength needed for the Diet to propose rewriting the Constitution.
A joint survey by The Asahi Shimbun and the University of Tokyo found that 80 percent of the new members of the chamber support amending the Constitution.
Momentum for constitutional amendments is growing in both the ruling and opposition camps.
But differences in the parties’ positions have also become clearer.
The LDP’s campaign platform included a proposal to spell out the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution.
Abe has said he wants to allow no room for the arguments that the SDF is unconstitutional.
The prime minister is eager to amend Article 9 of the Constitution.
However, his proposal has yet to be backed by a consensus of the LDP lawmakers, according to the prime minister.
“But I wish to hear serious discussions on the topic from this point of view,” he said.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who heads the new Kibo no To (Hope) party, has expressed her willingness to support the Abe administration for constitutional amendments where possible.
But she has voiced skepticism about a proposal to define the status of the SDF.
“The government has long said the SDF is constitutional,” she has pointed out.
Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi argues that it is unnecessary to change Article 9. He calls for broad, nonpartisan consensus among parties on any constitutional amendment the administration might pursue.
“We should seek to form a consensus including the understanding of the largest opposition party,” he said.
The newly created Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which has emerged as the new largest opposition group, is opposed to any amendment to Article 9 in line with the national security legislation enacted in 2015, which the party says is unconstitutional.
A similar situation exists in the Upper House, where the Democratic Party, which is opposed to an amendment to Article 9, remains the largest opposition bloc.
In an Oct. 23 news conference, Abe pledged to seek broad political support before the Diet makes an amendment proposal.
“We cannot expect to win the support of all (opposition parties), but it goes without saying that we need to make efforts to build a broad consensus,” he said.
Abe also said he will not set any fixed time frame for constitutional amendments.
We should expect no less caution from the prime minister over this issue.
The principal test of Abe’s commitment to his words is whether he will lay the groundwork for sincere and careful nonpartisan debate on constitutional amendments at the Commissions on the Constitution of both houses of the Diet.
The changes of the times may require discussions on adjustments to the Constitution. However, there is a principle that must never be violated.
The Constitution is a body of basic norms to guarantee the people’s human rights and restrict the power of the state.
Any debate on constitutional amendments should be based on this basic assumption. The Constitution should be amended only when there is no other means.
Another key question is how much time and energy should be poured into debate on constitutional amendments. Its priority in policy efforts should be rigorously evaluated.
What is more important than anything else is to ensure that the people, with whom resides sovereign power, will understand and agree to the need to change the Constitution.
An Asahi Shimbun exit poll during the Lower House election showed the nation divided equally on whether the SDF’s status should be established in Article 9, with both opponents and supporters of the proposal accounting for 46 percent of the respondents.
It cannot be said that the support the LDP received in the election equates to support for constitutional amendments.
Debate on this topic should not be allowed to divide the nation.