It's not often a Lower House election offers the potential for far-reaching changes in policy that will shape the nation for years to come.
The election to be held Dec. 16 is one of those forks in the road.
Specifically, constitutional revision is taking center stage.
Two leading conservative forces, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the newly formed Japan Restoration Party, have made drafting a new Constitution a key plank in their campaign platforms.
LDP head Shinzo Abe, a former prime minister, has repeatedly vowed to "change the Constitution written by the occupation forces."
The Japan Restoration Party included the plank for drafting a new Constitution out of consideration for the long-held stance of its leader, Shintaro Ishihara, the former Tokyo governor who once was an LDP lawmaker and is an avowed nationalist.
When party leaders met to debate issues at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Nov. 30, Mizuho Fukushima, head of the minor Social Democratic Party, said the Constitution had emerged as the focal issue of the Lower House election.
"I am gravely concerned that once the election is over a Diet session will be convened to amend the Constitution for the worst."
Touching upon the draft of an amended Constitution cobbled together by the LDP, Abe said: "I have always wanted to have a debate about whether or not the Constitution should be amended. I am glad to see the issue (finally) being discussed in this election."
At one point, national politics was clearly divided over whether or not to amend the Constitution. But the issue no longer serves the role of drawing a line between two opposing forces.
Although the parties seeking a new Constitution have gained momentum, the entities that have long argued for protecting it, such as the SDP and the Japanese Communist Party, have seen their fortunes decline.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan, having incorporated politicians with liberal leanings, only calls in its campaign manifesto for making better use of the Constitution.
At the same time, some DPJ lawmakers are aggressively calling for the exercise of the nation's right to collective self-defense. Under current interpretations of the pacifist Constitution that went into force in 1947, the exercise of that right is prohibited.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has also long argued that the Constitution should be amended to leave no doubt about the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces.
Moves for constitutional revision picked up pace with the establishment last year of Constitution deliberative commissions in both chambers of the Diet to consider proposals submitted by the various parties.
LDP officials are using continuing standoff with China over sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands and North Korea's announcement of plans to launch a missile this month to propel discussions on constitutional revision.
In a Dec. 3 speech in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture, Shigeru Ishiba, the LDP secretary-general, linked those foreign policy and national security issues with inadequacies in the Constitution.
"What does it mean to have no wording in the Constitution about an organization that protects the nation's independence?" Ishiba asked. "Why does North Korea decide to go ahead with experimental launches of missiles? Why has China expanded its defense spending to the extent that it has?"
Among the major provisions in the LDP's constitutional amendment draft is the establishment of a national military. The party platform also calls for maintaining the basic principle of pacifism and denies any agenda to cause war.
At the same time, the party has raised objections to the government interpretation of not recognizing the SDF as a military force as well as the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution which does not allow the SDF to possess anything above the bare minimum required for self-defense.
Abe has said, "Let us put an end to the sophistry of referring to the SDF when speaking to a domestic audience and calling it a military when talking to other nations."
Besides simply what to call the SDF, the LDP campaign platform also includes provisions that would greatly change the character of the SDF. One example is the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. That would allow the SDF to counterattack should U.S. Navy ships come under fire near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as well as to shoot down ballistic missiles launched by North Korea and bound for the United States.
Abe is seeking to exercise that right in order to improve trust in the Japan-U.S. alliance, which serves as a cornerstone of Japan's foreign policy.
The Japan Restoration Party sympathizes with the LDP position.
In its initial platform, the party called for measures that would allow for greater decision-making by the governing structure, such as direct election of the prime minister. However, as soon as Ishihara became party leader, the drafting of a new Constitution was immediately added to the platform along with the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.
At the Nov. 30 party leaders' debate, Ishihara said, "The greatest crime committed by (then Prime Minister) Shigeru Yoshida after Japan regained its independence was not abandoning the occupation Constitution and drafting a new one."
At a Nov. 29 news conference to announce the Japan Restoration Party's campaign platform, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who formed the party, said, "A major fork in the road will emerge between those who are satisfied with the current Constitution and those who want to draft their own."
Because the approval of two-thirds of the members of both chambers of the Diet is required to bring constitutional amendments before the Diet, constitutional revision will be difficult to achieve before next summer's Upper House election. This is because the LDP does not control a majority in that chamber.
The LDP, the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party are all calling for relaxing the conditions for constitutional amendments laid out in Article 96 of the Constitution.
Your Party is also seeking amendments that would introduce a regional bloc governing system for greater local autonomy as well as merging the two Diet chambers into one with a total of 200 members.
Should the LDP and the Japan Restoration Party increase their Lower House strength, momentum could build for constitutional revision. So far, no party has submitted proposals to the Constitution deliberative commissions established in the two chambers in October 2011.
The Lower House is working to arrange the points of debate within the preamble and 11 chapters of the Constitution. The Upper House has held discussions on the single issue of how the Constitution can be used to deal with the Great East Japan Earthquake. The chamber is trying to decide whether the Constitution encompasses sufficient provisions to deal with such a disaster.
Meantime, the SDP and JCP have been raising red flags about moves to amend the Constitution in the near future.
In its platform, the JCP states that "every effort will be made to form a majority to protect Article 9."
At a Dec. 3 news conference, Tadayoshi Ichida, the JCP secretary-general, said, "The right to collective self-defense, the national military and a simulation exercise for possessing nuclear weapons are a dangerous trend toward a major chorus calling for a tilt to the right."
In its platform, the SDP wrote, "The LDP is tilting toward the right and the Japan Restoration Party is going even beyond the LDP."
In its campaign manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, the DPJ pledged to tinker with the Constitution "for any parts found wanting." However, the party now only says that better use should be made of the Constitution.
During a Dec. 3 interview with reporters, Noda voiced what many voters must be wondering when he said, "Should constitutional revision be a central issue of the election? The public is surely most interested in social security and the economy."
He tried to differentiate himself from Abe by describing himself as a "realist" even though he has called for constitutional revision in the past.
New Komeito makes no mention of the Constitution in its platform. Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has specifically criticized the LDP pledge.
"If the exercise of the right to collective self-defense is recognized and the Constitution revised to create a national military, there would be no constitutional restraints on the use of force overseas," Yamaguchi said. "The nature of the SDF's duties would also change. We cannot agree to that."
Yasuo Hasebe, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Tokyo, said rather than a major political undertaking such as drafting a new Constitution, political parties should be more concerned with implementing policies that could improve the daily lives of the people.
"The Constitution contains principles for social life and politics that should not be simply changed depending on majority opinion at a particular point in time," he said. "The main thrust of Article 96 is that the Constitution can only be amended after wide-ranging agreement has been reached. Relaxing those conditions should only be done after careful consideration."
- « Prev
- Next »