Abe backing away from strategy to revise Constitution

June 18, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed signs of retreating from his aggressive strategy to revise Japan’s pacifist Constitution after the public showed little enthusiasm for the issue and a potential ally plummeted in popularity.

Abe indicated on June 16 that he was instead leaning toward a proposal by ruling coalition partner New Komeito--a party that has long supported the principles spelled out in the Constitution.

New Komeito had objected to Abe’s plan to amend Article 96 so that a simple majority of members of the two Diet chambers would be enough to initiate a constitutional amendment. The article currently requires approval of two-thirds of lawmakers in each house.

Abe told reporters accompanying him to Poland that it would be possible to maintain the two-thirds requirement for articles related to three major principles--pacifism, fundamental human rights and sovereign power residing with the people.

That idea reflects the sentiment of New Komeito.

Abe had initially sought to amend Article 96 to lower the hurdle to rewrite war-renouncing Article 9.

However, public opinion remains mostly opposed to that move. And Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is also facing difficulties drumming up support in the political world.

Reporters asked Abe about the possibility of winning enough seats in this summer’s Upper House election to secure a two-thirds majority.

“It will be impossible to do so in one election,” Abe said. “We will make efforts to gain the proper majority after the election is over.”

He added, “There are even members of the Democratic Party of Japan who may side with us, depending on the article.”

A big problem for Abe is the sliding popularity of the Japan Restoration Party, which is also seeking constitutional revisions. The party’s support rates shrunk after co-leader Toru Hashimoto said the system of “comfort women” who provided sex to Imperial Japanese military personnel before and during World War II was “necessary” in battle.

Your Party has also come out in favor of revising Article 96. However, the LDP, the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party would have to win at least 101 of the contested seats in the Upper House election in July to gain a combined two-thirds majority.

“It is an impossible figure to reach,” an LDP executive said.

To push forward his long-held objective to revise the Constitution, Abe likely felt the need to bring New Komeito into the picture.

New Komeito officials welcomed Abe’s comment about maintaining the two-thirds requirement for the three major principles.

“A humble attitude is the manner in which debate on this issue should normally be conducted,” said Natsuo Yamaguchi, the New Komeito leader.

Strong resistance to amending Article 96 was evident within Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist organization that is the main supporter of New Komeito, because officials felt it would directly lead to a revision of Article 9.

However, some New Komeito officials indicated possible support for easing the conditions for amendments on certain articles. Some party officials were also concerned about being left behind as the LDP sought the cooperation of other parties.

Abe indicated that the foundation for seeking a two-thirds majority for constitutional revisions would be the LDP-New Komeito coalition.

“We will seek to win a majority of (Upper House) seats through the LDP and New Komeito,” Abe told reporters on June 16.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reinforced that stance when he said at a June 17 news conference, “Our fundamental way of thinking is to seek out other partners based on policy while standing upon the coalition government between the LDP and New Komeito.”

Still, the LDP is not expected to incorporate Abe’s latest comment in the party platform for the Upper House election. The party will likely stick to the plank of relaxing the conditions in Article 96 to a simple majority.

The search for potential partners to revise the Constitution will only begin after the results of the Upper House election are in.

Although Abe has long pushed for constitutional revisions, he told close associates that he would not rush the issue.

“If the voters reject ratification of a constitutional amendment, the damage would be huge,” Abe was quoted as telling them. “I will not easily initiate an amendment.”

A high-ranking New Komeito official also pointed out that any constitutional revision would not proceed quickly since the three major principles Abe talked about are related to almost all articles in the Constitution.

Abe’s reference to seeking support from even DPJ lawmakers also showed he was aware that depending on the Japan Restoration Party was no longer a viable option.

However, DPJ head Banri Kaieda criticized Abe for suggesting that the LDP would seek the support of DPJ lawmakers who favored constitutional revisions.

“The thinking of the entire DPJ is opposition to the constitutional revision proposal,” Kaieda said at a June 17 news conference.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes questions from reporters after arriving in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 17 to attend the Group of Eight summit. (Hajime Horiguchi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes questions from reporters after arriving in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 17 to attend the Group of Eight summit. (Hajime Horiguchi)

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  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes questions from reporters after arriving in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 17 to attend the Group of Eight summit. (Hajime Horiguchi)

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