Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Abe looking to build consensus for change to pacifist Constitution

By CAI HONG (China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-27 08:16

Abe looking to build consensus for change to pacifist Constitution

Members of T-ns SOWL hold placards to encourage young people to vote in the summer's House of Councillors elections outside the Parliament building on June 10, 2016, Tokyo, Japan. The Teens Stand up to Oppose War Law (T-ns SOWL) is a voluntary activist group of high school students whose goals are to protect democracy and pacifism in Japan. This year's House of Councillors elections is the first time that 18 and 19 year old can vote, and demonstration organizers claimed that 1500 attended the event.[Photo/IC]

With Japan's upper house election just two weeks away, the country's media outlets are busy taking the public's pulse.

Polls by the Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun found that the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito will have a strong showing in the race. They are expected to take a majority of the 121 seats up for grabs. Together with those opposition parties that support constitutional revision, the LDP, or to be more exact, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will remove what has historically been an insuperable obstacle for the change.

Rewriting Japan's Constitution requires the approval of two-thirds of the chambers of parliament, or Diet, followed by majority support in a public referendum. The LDP has mustered enough seats in the lower house to meet that threshold. Now the second appears to be within reach in the upper house.

Last year, Abe said he wants to initiate the process of amending the Constitution, which, in his words, no longer reflects the realities the country faces in a rapidly changing world, as early as 2016.

Yet the Constitution, dubbed a pacifist charter for its Article 9 announcing that Japan forever renounces war and the threat or use of force, is popular among the country's people. When the parliament railroaded security legislation in 2015 to expand the role of Japan's quasi-army 200,000-strong and well-equipped Self-Defense Force worldwide, hundreds and thousands of people staged demonstrations. The legislation that has turned Japan into a war-capable country took effect in March.

The LDP's 26-page official platform for the upper house election says amending the Constitution is a prime goal of the party and that it will strive to build up a national consensus through discussions in the Diet to achieve that goal.

As opinion polls show that a majority of people in Japan oppose the revision of Article 9, the LDP has mapped out a strategy to gradually have the public get used to constitutional amendments by picking people-friendly issues such as "environmental rights" as the first step.

Abe is trying not to make the Constitution an issue in the election, saying on Friday it would be difficult for the time being to revise Article 9.

This, however, does not necessarily preclude the LDP from pushing for an amendment if the party and its allies secure a two-thirds majority in the upper house.

The leading opposition Democratic Party and other smaller opposition parties, such as the Communist Party, have vowed to block any attempt to revise Article 9. Japan's Social Democratic Party leader Tadatomo Yoshida called such a revision "absolutely unacceptable" as it is "a 180-degree departure in Japan's position as a peace-loving nation".

The July 10 election is the last triennial race before Abe's second, and supposedly last, term as LDP chief ends in 2018.

Now all eyes are on the outcome of the election because it may open the door to constitutional revision. Changes to the Constitution, especially Article 9, will greatly alter the shape of Japan.

The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief. caihong@chinadaily.com.cn

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