By Jun Kudo and Ryoji Fukazawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersUpper house members who favor amending the Constitution, including those in the ruling bloc and Nippon Ishin no Kai, fell four short of a two-thirds majority, or 164 seats, in the recent House of Councillors election. To initiate amendments to the Constitution requires the consent of two-thirds of the members of both houses of the Diet.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, wants to turn his ardent wish to revise the Constitution into reality, so he is eager to have opposition parties such as the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) involved to advance debate.
Foot on the gas
“The people have given the verdict that we should at least have discussions [on amending the Constitution],” Abe said intensely at a press conference at LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Monday. “I want opposition parties to face up to the people’s will.”
Abe also declared that the LDP will provide strong leadership to compile draft amendments to the Constitution.
During the upper house election campaign, Abe repeatedly appealed to voters asking whether they would choose parties that debate the Constitution or those that won’t, in the hopes of breathing new life into stagnating Diet discussion.
With the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito winning the majority of contested seats in Sunday’s election, Abe has immediately stepped on the gas to push through constitutional amendments.
Behind the scenes
Even so, the road ahead is rocky.
Komeito has consistently been passive about constitutional change.
“It’s a little aggressive to take this election results as a sign that ‘We should discuss amending the Constitution,’” said Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi on a TV program on Monday, taking a stance squarely against Abe’s interpretation.
In reality, exit polls conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and Nippon TV network stations showed voters thought the most important political matter was “social security” at 30 percent, while only 8 percent picked “amending the Constitution.” On the back of the results of the latest upper house election, there will likely be occasions where Komeito calls a halt to any LDP moves to push ahead with Diet deliberations.
In order to secure the two-thirds majority to initiate constitutional amendments, the LDP has its eyes set on the DPFP.
“There are many DPFP members who think it’s necessary to debate this,” Abe said during Monday’s press conference. “We must actively develop discussions with such people.”
After the election the DPFP has 21 seats in the upper house. If the LDP can gain the DPFP’s cooperation, it would easily clear the two-thirds threshold.
“Even if it is impossible to get all DPFP members to cooperate, if we can get some of them” is the hope, a senior LDP official said.
Even before the election, a veteran lawmaker close to Abe has made contact with DPFP members behind the scenes.
SDF and Article 9
The LDP’s draft Constitution reform proposal contains clauses on four items:
1. Stipulation of the legal grounds for the Self-Defense Forces
2. Handling of emergency situations
3. Elimination of merged constituencies in upper house elections
4. Improvement of education
Of these, Abe is particularly keen on an SDF stipulation in Article 9 of the Constitution. Other parties feel strongly opposed, including Komeito, which prefers only adding clauses to the Constitution. The LDP’s coalition partner has not changed its cautious stance on this matter.
“Most of the people accept the SDF,” Yamaguchi said. “It is necessary to carry out thorough discussions on whether it is meaningful to write this [in the Constitution].”
In their manifestos for the House of Councillors election, opposition parties the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party made it clear that they are against stipulating the SDF in Article 9 of the Constitution.
While Abe places hopes on the opposition DPFP as a potential partner in amending the Constitution, the party insists that if to what extent the right to self-defense can be exercised remains vague, the SDF should not be stipulated in the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Nippon Ishin no Kai, which distances itself from joining the opposition’s united front, takes a different stance.
“People have much interest in the stipulation of the SDF, so I hope there will be detailed discussions,” said Nobuyuki Baba, the party’s secretary general.