Abe seeks partners to pave way for constitutional revisions

December 18, 2012


Shinzo Abe, who will become prime minister next week, said his Liberal Democratic Party will work with smaller parties on easing conditions to achieve his long-cherished goal of revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution.

“We are being called on to change the framework created during (postwar) occupation with our own hands, by revising the Constitution and the Fundamental Law of Education,” Abe told a news conference on Dec. 17, a day after the LDP’s landslide victory in the Lower House election.

Amending the Constitution, particularly its war-renouncing Article 9, is unfinished business for Abe, who resigned as prime minister in 2007 due to health problems after a year in office.

On Dec. 17, Abe said his priority is to revise Article 96, not Article 9, referring to a clause that requires the approval of at least two-thirds of members of both parliamentary chambers to bring constitutional amendments before the Diet.

Abe plans to lower the requirement to a simple majority of members of each chamber.

“If 60 to 70 percent of the public want to change the Constitution, they cannot lay even one finger on it as long as more than one-third of Diet members are opposed,” Abe said. “It is an extremely high hurdle.”

In 2007, the national referendum law, which establishes procedures for amending the Constitution, was enacted under Abe’s leadership.

“We built a bridge to change the Constitution,” Abe said. “The first thing we will do after crossing the bridge is to revise Article 96.”

On Dec. 17, Abe cited the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party, which both support revising the clause, as potential partners.

Abe will be named prime minister on Dec. 26, and the LDP plans to form a coalition government with New Komeito, its longtime ally.

New Komeito, a pacifist party backed by the nation’s largest lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, has criticized Abe for seeking constitutional amendments.

But the LDP will be able to secure the support of more than two-thirds of Lower House members if it teams up with the Japan Restoration Party.

The LDP seized 294 of the 480 Lower House seats in the election. The Japan Restoration Party won 54 seats.

Shintaro Ishihara, nationalist leader of the Japan Restoration Party, appeared willing to work with the LDP.

“A key issue is how the LDP will change the Constitution, the root of all evil,” Ishihara has said.

Abe has already set his sight on the Upper House election next summer.

“While we have two-thirds (support) in the Lower House, we are far from it in the Upper House,” Abe said. “The question is whether we will be able to gain it in the next election. Fortunately, we can agree with the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party on (revising) Article 96.”

Abe says allied occupation forces imposed the Constitution on Japan following its defeat in World War II.

He made constitutional amendments a key election issue. The LDP’s campaign platform includes plans to upgrade the status of the Self-Defense Forces to a national defense force.

When Abe became the youngest prime minister in the postwar period in September 2006, he promised to “put constitutional amendments on a political schedule” and exercise leadership toward that goal.

At a news conference in January 2007, Abe said he wanted to amend the Constitution under his Cabinet and make it a key issue in an Upper House election in summer that year.

But amendment discussions between the ruling and opposition camps broke down after the LDP and New Komeito railroaded the national referendum law in May 2007.

Abe will also resume work on another of his pet initiatives: reviewing the nation’s education system.

In his previous stint as prime minister, Abe added a provision aimed at instilling patriotism to the Fundamental Law of Education in the first revision to the law in 59 years. It calls for nurturing “love of our nation and local areas.”

Abe set up an education rebuilding headquarters to directly report to him after he was elected LDP president in September. The team drafted election promises concerning the education system.

The campaign platform calls for revising the textbook screening process and reviewing the clause that states that the feelings of neighboring nations must be considered when deciding on what to include in textbooks.

China and South Korea say some history textbooks in Japan whitewash the nation’s military past.

Another source of contention between Japan and its neighbors is Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the nation’s war dead as well as 14 Class A war criminals.

When he served as prime minister, Abe refrained from visiting the shrine in Tokyo out of consideration to China.

On Dec. 17, Abe would not comment on whether he will visit the shrine after he takes office, although he had previously expressed willingness.

“It was extremely regrettable that I was not able to visit while I was in office,” he said. “But I should not comment beyond that.”

Japan’s relations with China are currently strained due to the dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

“The Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan,” Abe said. “There is no room for negotiations on that point.”

But he indicated the possibility of taking a flexible stance to resolve the dispute.

“Ties with China are among the most important bilateral relations for Japan,” he said. “We want to hold dialogue with China patiently and make efforts to improve the relations.”

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Shinzo Abe at a news conference on Dec. 17 (Shiro Nishihata)

Shinzo Abe at a news conference on Dec. 17 (Shiro Nishihata)

  • Shinzo Abe at a news conference on Dec. 17 (Shiro Nishihata)
  • The Asahi Shimbun

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