News Analysis: Abe's push to amend Japan's constitution not foregone conclusion despite ruling bloc's election win

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-23 21:37:08|Editor: liuxin
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by Jon Day

TOKYO, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition retaining a two-thirds majority in the lower house election on Sunday will likely pave the way for parliamentary debate on the contentious issue of the first-ever amendment to Japan's war-renouncing constitution, informed sources here said.

But changing Japan's Supreme Law for the first time since World War II is far from a foregone conclusion, political commentators here attested, despite the two-thirds majority achieved by the LDP and its Komeito party ally in Sunday's election.

The coalition's two-thirds majority at the lower house does mean that debate on the thorny issue can proceed notionally, as the majority is required at both houses of parliament to formally propose a revision to the constitution and the coalition already has the requisite majority in the upper house.

Numerous hurdles, however, will need to be straddled before Abe's and other pro-reformists' aspirations can be brought to fruition, political watchers here said.

None more so than the majority needed in a public referendum on the issue, should the notion clear both houses of parliament.

"The cabinet (of Prime Minister Abe) and the National Diet will begin debate on the issue of constitutional amendment and Japanese politics has now entered a stage of so-called constitutional politics," Dr. Shin Chiba, professor with Special Appointment at International Christian University, told Xinhua.

"The legislature may pass the resolution to step forward to a referendum on the matter, but the Japanese populace is divided almost half and half on this issue, so this will cause fierce debate in society," the specialist in political theory explained.

He added that it might be the case that sections of society may be in favor of constitutional amendment, but that, "there still exists a general attachment, both logical and emotional, to the current pacifist constitution in terms of the general public's opinions and sentiment."

The politically and socially divisive issue of amending Japan's pacifist constitution has since the LDP's establishment in 1955 been adopted in several of the party's fundamental platforms, with conservative, pro-reform factions becoming more vociferous on the issue from the 1990s to date.

The LDP's recent drive for constitutional amendment, led by Abe, however, has been matched by staunch demurral from opposition parties, constitutional scholars and sizable sections of the Japanese society, with the nucleus of the highly-polarized issue being Article 9 of the constitution.

It states, "Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

"Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."

Experts have pointed out, Abe's legacy-led quest to amend the constitution by specifically referencing Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF), on the back of relatively new and controversial security legislation, and, the potential thereafter to broaden the operational scope of the nation's military on a global stage, has perturbed a multitude of lawmakers, scholars and peace-loving citizens here.

"Abe's reasons are very simple and have been clear for years. He is a patient and devoted nationalist who sees Japan as a 'normal' power in the region. He is, as everyone knows, emboldened by supporters who harbor fears and antipathies toward other powers in the region," remarked Christian Collet, from International Christian University's Politics and International Relations faculty.

"Significant segments of the public will continue to resist the efforts to revise Article 9 and there is near unanimous opposition to Japan becoming a nuclear power," Collet told Xinhua.

While Abe and the LDP will be able to curry some favor from Komeito, the Party of Hope and the smaller Japan Innovation Party on amending the constitution, the parties differ on which changes should be prioritized.

And, as regards the key pacifist clause, the now main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), led by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, opposes its amendment as it believes doing so would justify what it describes as "dubious" new security laws.

The overall consensus among renowned political academics here is that the issue of constitutional reform, while certainly rousing intense debate in parliament henceforth, is ultimately a decision that should and may well eventually be decided by the Japanese public, in spite of Abe's seemingly personal ambitions.

"Abe has committed himself to constitutional reform. He has probably been affected by his maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who was the prime minister from 1957 through 1960," affirmed Yu Uchiyama, Professor of Politics at the University of Tokyo.

"Though the majority of MPs will be in favor of constitutional reform, there is much hesitation in amending the constitution among the public. If Abe serves another term, he will undertake the procedures to amend the constitution. However, it might not proceed as he wishes," Uchiyama told Xinhua.