Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reinforced staffing to pave the way for constitutional revision in his reshuffle of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) executives on Oct. 2. He is aiming to submit constitutional revision proposals to the extraordinary Diet session to be convened in late October. He appointed Hakubun Shimomura to chair the Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution charged with discussing specific proposals and Katsunobu Kato to head the General Council, which has to approve these proposals. Abe intends to build consensus in the party through Shimomura, Kato, and other Diet members close to him.
Abe reiterated at his news conference on Oct. 2 his intent to submit amendment proposals on the revision of Article 9 and three other issues to the extraordinary Diet session.
Two LDP bodies hold the key to this, the Constitution Revision Headquarters that will draft the proposals and the General Council that needs to approve these proposals.
The headquarters reports direct to the LDP president. Many of its leading members are also members of the Commissions on the Constitution in both houses of the Diet. It is very likely that the headquarters chair will not only be responsible for intra-party debate, but also for coordination with Komeito and the opposition parties.
Shimomura, who has been named the headquarters chairman, is known to be a proponent of constitutional revision. He has served as the secretary general of Abe’s Hosoda faction and has long been his political ally.
Shimomura will work first on the headquarters’ membership. What he will do with Hajime Funada, who has criticized Abe’s stance in the headquarters and cast a blank vote in the recent presidential race, and Gen Nakatani, who endorsed Shigeru Ishiba in the presidential race, in order to speed up the submission of constitutional revision proposals will be a matter of great interest.
Once proposals are drafted at the headquarters, the next stage is the General Council. This is the LDP’s highest organ of decision-making which makes unanimous decisions by convention. The submission of constitutional amendment proposals to the Diet will require the approval of the council. Its chairman’s coordination ability to forge a consensus will be put to the test if objections are voiced at the council.
Ishiba, Abe’s rival in the presidential race, stated on Oct. 2: “I hope they will not set a predetermined schedule” for constitutional revision.
After his appointment on Oct. 2, Kato stated at a news conference: “We will make proper decisions at the General Council and implement those decisions.” When asked about the constitutional revision proposals, he said: “We will decide on our response by closely watching the debate in the Constitution Revision Headquarters,” stressing he will give importance to collaboration with Shimomura.
Kato also has close ties with Abe. He is the son-in-law of Mutsuki Kato, one of the “big four” political heavyweights with Abe’s father, the late Shintaro Abe. The Prime Minister chaired the funeral committee for Mutsuki, and he has strong ties with Katsunobu that span two generations. Even after Abe’s resignation during his first administration, Kato and Shimomura joined him in advocating constitutional revision in a supra-partisan parliamentary union and elsewhere.
The appointment of top LDP executives this time shows that Diet members close to Abe have been named to other key positions. Koichi Hagiuda has been reappointed as executive acting secretary general under Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai. Tomomi Inada, who once served as Policy Research Council chair and defense minister under the Abe administration, has been newly appointed as chief deputy secretary general. Both are known to be constitutional revision advocates close to Abe.
Coordination with coalition partner Komeito will be tricky. Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi expressed doubts about submitting constitutional revision proposals to the extraordinary Diet session on Oct. 2, saying: “Will the concrete proposals be drawn up by the LDP? How do they relate to the four issues? I don’t really know.”
Abe stated at his news conference on Oct. 2: “It is important to have honest discussions based on our relationship of trust with Komeito.” He also pointed out: “It is not possible to win the understanding of Komeito and the Japanese people without presenting concrete provisions,” thus indicating his intent to speed up consensus building in the LDP.
Masahiko Komura once achieved a consensus between the two ruling parties through his consultations with Komeito deputy leader Kazuo Kitagawa during the process of enacting the security legislation authorizing the exercise of the right to collective self-defense. Attaching great importance to this channel of communication, Abe had retained Komura as LDP vice president even after his retirement from politics, with the hope that he would act as ruling party coordinator. This time, although Komura was relieved as vice president, he will now serve as supreme adviser to the Constitutional Revision Headquarters.
A senior Komeito official observes that “the LDP will probably be preoccupied with whether it will be able to submit constitutional revision proposals to the extraordinary Diet session.” This Diet session will be a short one, convening from late October to around Dec. 10. There is limited time for coordination within the LDP. The result of Abe’s appointing his trusted allies will soon be tested. (Slightly abridged)