It can be said that a debate between the candidates for the upcoming Liberal Democratic Party leadership election has shed light on differences in how to proceed with constitutional amendment and the candidates’ policy priorities. It is important for them to clarify the nation’s future course by deepening discussions further.
In the lead-up to the LDP presidential election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba faced off in the debate, organized by the Japan National Press Club.
The prime minister expressed his intent, saying, “I will take on the challenge of amending the Constitution, something that has never been carried out in 70 years since the end of World War II.” Abe intends to have the party submit to this autumn’s extraordinary Diet session legislation to amend the Constitution that centers on revising Article 9 to stipulate the legal existence of the Self-Defense Forces.
On the other hand, Ishiba argued that dissolving merged constituencies for House of Councillors elections is a more pressing issue than a revision to Article 9.
The public has become more aware of the importance of the SDF. It is significant to establish the legitimacy of the SDF by dispelling the notion that the SDF is unconstitutional. Ishiba’s stance to put priority on eliminating the merged constituencies is unlikely to win public understanding.
Since the end of World War II, the LDP has had the goal of revising Article 9. It is crucial to create an environment for constitutional amendment by seizing an opportunity in which the pro-amendment forces have a two-thirds majority in each chamber of the Diet and giving impetus to discussions on the issue.
Abe has taken the lead in pushing a plan to add a provision to ensure the legal status of the SDF while retaining Paragraph 2 of Article 9, which prohibits the nation from possessing war potential. By leaving the article’s current text unchanged, he aims to obtain more support from other parties more easily. Controversy as to whether the SDF is “war potential” remains.
Ishiba has advocated a plan to remove Paragraph 2 in order to regard the SDF as military forces. As there is a possibility that this would lead to a drastic review of the nation’s defense policy, more detailed explanations are required.
Acts, not mere words
In the debate, the evaluation of the Abenomics economic policy package, which has entered its sixth year since being implemented, also became a point of contention.
The prime minister called for his policies to be continued, citing achievements such as improved employment conditions. Regarding an “exit strategy” to normalize the so-called different-dimension monetary easing, Abe stated an intention to set a path within his next three-year term as LDP president.
To this end, efforts to realize a complete exit from deflation must be accelerated.
Ishiba called for rectifying Abe’s policies, saying, “It’s necessary to tap the potential of regional areas and small and midsize companies as well as the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries.” Measures intended for such aims tend to resort to lavish budgetary spending. Ishiba should present effective concrete measures.
Abe countered Ishiba’s argument, saying: “This is not a confrontational structure between regional areas and Tokyo. There is a correlation.” He should listen also to the voices saying that the fruits of an economic recovery have not spilled over to regional areas.
Apparently with a series of scandals over school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution in mind, Ishiba stressed, “Even though the information is inconvenient, explanations must be offered without holding back.”
It has been pointed out that arrogance and laxity have emerged in the Abe administration due to its longtime rule. Abe said, “I will handle the government humbly and carefully.” The efforts to regain public trust must not end up as mere words.