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LDP, Komeito in tug-of-war over revision of referendum law

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito are engaged in political maneuvering over the revision of the referendum law, which stipulates the procedures for constitutional revision. While the LDP would like to deliberate on constitutional revision and amendments to this law simultaneously, Komeito regards amendment of the law to be a high priority, reflecting its cautious stance on constitutional revision. With the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the other opposition parties refusing to be drawn into the LDP’s ploy, certain LDP members have voiced concern that this may delay the constitutional revision debate.


Kazuo Kitagawa, chair of the Komeito Central Secretariat who also heads its constitutional commission, stated at a news conference on April 5 that discussions on revising the referendum law should start at an early date.


Amendments to the Public Office Election Law in 2016 expanded the coverage of “voting at sea” from crew members of ships sailing in international waters to include trainees, but this is not reflected in the referendum law which was enacted in 2007. This law also has no provisions on voting stations at train stations and commercial establishments. Legal consistency has been an issue.


An executive meeting of the Komeito’s constitutional commission on April 4 agreed on eight points at issue, and party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi is also keen on revising the law, stating: “Dealing with legal amendments properly is a priority issue.”


On the other hand, the LDP, which hopes to submit motions for constitutional amendment to the Diet within this year, wants to present its constitutional revision proposals to the Commissions on the Constitution in both houses of the Diet and urge them to begin deliberations at an early date.


Although the LDP and Komeito agree on the need to revise the referendum law, certain LDP members have voiced suspicion that “Komeito may be using legal amendment to buy time,” according to a senior LDP official.


In reaction to this, the CDPJ, the No. 1 opposition party, is actually demanding further legal amendments. It wants tighter restrictions on TV commercials calling on voters to support or oppose constitutional revision proposals during a referendum on the grounds that “otherwise, the well-funded organizations may influence public opinion.” This is also seen to be a tactic to prevent the constitutional revision debate, since this party is against revising the Constitution under the Abe administration.


With the issue of the Finance Ministry’s document tampering in mind, the CDPJ is putting pressure on the LDP by stating: “We are not averse to convening the Commissions on the Constitution if such issues as the Diet members’ right to investigate matters of government and legislative control of the administration will be discussed,” according to the party’s constitutional commission chief Ikuo Yamahana.


The Democratic Party is opposed to discussing constitutional revision per se. Its leader Kohei Otsuka told a news conference on April 5, “A cabinet that keeps making false testimonies in the Diet has no business talking about the Constitution. It is impossible to have a constitutional debate.”


Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen on revising the Constitution to add provisions on the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), LDP members are worried about the impact of the scandal over the SDF activity logs. Former Economic Revitalization Minister Nobuteru Ishihara voiced alarm at an Ishihara faction meeting on April 5: “The activity log issue is a very serious matter that concerns the basis of the state and the SDF, civilian control, and even the Constitution.” (Slightly abridged)

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