Is Japan's constitution revision on the cards?

A HISTORIC revision to Japan's pacifist post-war constitution is now on the back burner.

Following its defeat in World War II and the Land of the Rising Sun being occupied by the allies, a new Japanese constitution was drafted, coming into effect on May 3, 1947.

The post-war constitution replaced the Meiji Constitution, which was adopted in 1890. A unique provision of the post-war Japanese Constitution is Article 9, renouncing war.

The article states: "Japan forever renounces war as an instrument for settling international disputes and declares that Japan will never again maintain "land, sea, or air forces or another war potential.

This constitutional provision eventually led to the formation of the Japan Self Defence Force (JSDF) in 1954, which replaced the wartime Japanese Imperial Armed Forces.

The JSDF comprises the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (Army), Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (Navy), and the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (Air Force).

The necessity and practical extent of Article 9 have been debated in Japan for over six decades following its adoption. More so now as regional, global security and defence developments come to the fore with China flexing its muscles near home and the Russia-Ukraine war hits home a need to bolster its defences.

Following the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) better-than-expected showing in the Upper House election of the Japanese Parliament or National Diet on July 10, where it scored a two-thirds majority, the revision of the pacifist constitution looks set to take place.

The ruling LDP secured 63 seats and with its coalition partner Komeito secured 76 seats, comfortably keeping a majority in the 248-member House of Councillors or upper chamber of parliament.

The pro-constitutional amendment camp, comprising the LDP-Komeito coalition, two opposition parties — Democratic Party for the People (DPP) and Japan Innovation Party (JIP) and independents, secured 179 seats in the upper chamber. Combined with the 84 seats the LDP holds that were not up for election this year, it crossed the 166-seat threshold needed for a first-ever revision of the 1947 Constitution.

Japan's major opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, won just 17 seats, losing six.

Japan's upper house elections are held every three years to reelect half the seats.

This time, 125 seats were up for grabs, including one to fill a vacancy, with 75 elected from constituencies and the remaining 50 through a proportional representation system.

Elections for parliament's less powerful upper house are typically a referendum on the sitting government. Change of government was not at stake, as that is determined by the lower house or House of Representatives.

The election was overshadowed by the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, 67, gunned down on July 8 by an unemployed man using a homemade gun during his campaign rounds. The rare incident shocked a nation where both gun crime and political violence are extremely rare.

It was Abe's cherished goal during his prime ministership to amend the Japanese constitution and, in particular, Article 9.

Abe was Japan's prime minister for four terms, 2006-2007 (1st term); 2012-2014 (2nd term); 2014 - 2017 (3rd term); and 2017 - 2020 (4th term).

The move to amend the Japanese constitution received backing last year when the LDP won 261 seats, while its junior partner Komeito snared 32 seats in Oct 31, 2021, General Election for the House of Representatives.

Besides JIP's 41 and DPP's 11 seats, the goes beyond the 310 seats required for a two-thirds majority in the lower house.

The polls also carried the LDP leader, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, safely over the 233 majority seat margin required in the powerful Lower House of Parliament.

With a two-thirds majority in both houses of the National Diet, LDP and its constitution revision allies, Japan's pacifist constitution, look set for revamping.

A change to the constitution must be approved by two-thirds of both houses of parliament, as well as by a majority of voters in a national referendum.

According to a poll published in the beginning of July by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, 36 per cent of voters supported a revision, while 38 per cent of respondents opposed such amendments. Most polls suggest the issue is not a major priority for voters.

"It is unlikely Kishida risks a national vote on revision until it was a near certainty," said Jeffrey J. Hall, a Japanese politics specialist at the Kanda University of International Studies told VOA.

"The LDP has been playing a long game. Since they formed their party in the 1950s, most conservative members, including Abe's grandfather, wanted to get rid of Article 9. They are waiting for the day to come when they are sure they can actually do it," he added.

The death of Abe however may see the pro-revision camp lose momentum.

"Following Abe's death, there will still be pressure on the prime minister to "at least go through the motions" on moving forward with constitutional revision, said Corey Wallace, a Kanagawa University specialist in Japan's foreign policy and East Asian security trends told The Japan Times.

"However, Abe's absence as the leader and unifying force of pro-revision and conservative politics, in general, will take some pressure off Kishida to expend political capital on the constitutional revision of Article 9 at least," he added.

Japan's oldest English daily, however, said the greater challenge is to coordinate among the four pro-revision parties on which clause to try to revise.

It said the ruling LDP hopes to make amendments that would codify the SDF in the top law, as well as insert a clause increasing the government's powers when responding to national emergencies. This is backed by JIP.

However, it adds that Komeito is backed by the Buddhist sect, Soka Gakkai and is ideologically pacifist — is hesitant to support revisions to Article 9 that would give the JSDF a firmer legal basis.

As for the emergency clause, the largest English daily in the East Asia nation said the DPP is proposing to increase parliamentary power, rather than that of the government, in times of emergency.

Yet, article 9 may be consigned to the back burner, albeit for not too long, while Kishida tackles other more urgent issues such as Covid-19 which now sees Tokyo entering its seventh wave; the slowing down of economic recovery; and the rising cost of living.

Abe's cherished move to amend Article 9 may not remain elusive but may get there, eventually.

The writer is NST news editor

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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