TOKYO — Removing Japan’s constitutional ban on maintaining military forces would be politically infeasible, the vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party told The Nikkei, suggesting that a less drastic change to the pacifist charter would be more realistic.
As a special adviser to the party’s constitutional revision committee, Masahiko Komura plays a central role in talks on amending Japan’s charter, which have picked up since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who heads the LDP, said in May that he hopes to have a new version take effect in 2020.
Discussion has focused on amending the war-renouncing Article 9 to explicitly recognize the Self-Defense Forces, as well as proposals involving emergency powers for the central government, electoral reform and free education. Komura said the party wants to have draft revisions ready for the LDP convention March 25.
The committee offered two options for Article 9 in discussion points released late last year. One, put forward by Abe, involves keeping the existing text while adding a clause recognizing the SDF. The other entails deleting the second clause — which states that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” and that “the right of belligerence” will not be recognized — while clarifying the SDF’s purpose and nature. This approach was taken in revisions proposed by the LDP in 2012.
“There are some who say clause 2 should be deleted,” Komura said. “But, politically, I don’t think that’s possible.”
This owes partly, he said, to junior coalition partner Komeito, whose support will be vital to achieving the two-thirds majorities needed in both legislative chambers of the Diet to propose revisions to the constitution. Komeito supports only additions to the charter, not changes to existing text.
Public support presents another issue. Any revision approved by the Diet needs to win a majority in a referendum to take effect. A proposal that keeps the clause banning “war potential” stands a better chance to succeed.
“It’d be difficult to break through the belief that we’ve had 70 years of peace because of” both clauses in Article 9, Komura said. The first clause renounces “war as a sovereign right of the nation.”
Even getting LDP lawmakers on the same page may prove difficult. Some in the party prefer removing the debated clause, but they accept that keeping it would be the best way to ensure the charter actually gets changed. Yet others such as Shigeru Ishiba, the former LDP secretary-general and ex-defense minister, continue pushing for its removal.
Constitutional revision is sure to be a focal point of the Diet session convening Monday. The LDP hopes to have the Diet vote to propose charter changes by the end of the year once its proposal has been submitted to constitution committees in the two houses. “The sooner the better,” Komura said.
But given that the LDP needs to reach an internal consensus, then bring Komeito and the opposition on board, some see the Diet proposing charter amendments in 2019 or even later.