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Japan election platforms show split on amending pacifist constitution

YUKI NAKAMURA, Nikkei staff writer

 

TOKYO — One question in next month’s upper house election in Japan is whether lawmakers open to amending the constitution can maintain the necessary two-thirds majority. But even such numbers would not guarantee an elusive consensus on the war-renouncing Article 9.

 

The July 10 vote will be the last major event on the electoral calendar until 2025, barring a snap election. This gives the ruling Liberal Democratic Party a prime opportunity to advance an agenda that includes the first-ever amendment of Japan’s postwar constitution.

 

“We want to submit a draft to parliament and initiate it as soon as possible after the election,” said LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi.

 

The four parties open to revising the constitution, together with similarly minded lawmakers, held the necessary two-thirds majority in both chambers before campaigning began this month.

But the numbers conceal wide differences among the parties that could block a consensus. “The reality is that we can’t initiate anything without a two-thirds majority that can agree on the content,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a debate last week.

 

Only the LDP and the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai, or Japan Innovation Party, have election platforms that advocate changing Article 9. Both aim to clarify the status of the Self-Defense Forces.

 

Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, takes a more cautious approach. It calls for maintaining the two existing clauses of Article 9, and says it will “continue consideration” of whether additional text on the SDF should be added.

 

“Much of the public understands and supports its activities and does not consider it unconstitutional,” Komeito’s platform says.

 

The opposition Democratic Party for the People distances itself from all of these positions. Its platform supports “concrete discussion” about the scope of Japan’s right to self defense under Article 9, rules on maintaining and controlling the SDF, and how the SDF relates to the constitution’s ban on “war potential.”

 

Constitutional issues extend beyond Article 9 to other areas, such as the government’s emergency powers.

 

The LDP seeks an amendment allowing for temporary expansion of the cabinet’s powers to enable a faster response to major disasters like earthquakes. Ishin also supports an emergency powers provision, with the additional condition of requiring approval by a newly created constitutional court to guard against abuse.

 

The Democratic Party for the People aims to create a new rule allowing for lawmakers’ terms to be extended during emergencies. Komeito’s platform mentions this as an issue to be discussed.

 

Current polls project pro-amendment lawmakers in the upper house to just reach the two-thirds threshold of 166 seats, a narrower margin than the three-quarters majority they hold in the lower house. This slim mandate means that each party has that much more leverage in the upper house making it that much harder to reconcile their views.

 

Among smaller parties, the Japanese Communist Party and Constitutional Democratic Party have consistently opposed amending the constitution.

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