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Momentum grows to change Japan's pacifist charter

Japanese prime minister aims to enact ruling to set out procedures for national referendum

Momentum grows to change Japan's pacifist charter

The final humiliation of a defeated Japan, hastily and illegally imposed by U.S. Occupation forces - or the embodiment of a war-weary people's dream of peace and the guardian of individual rights from the abuse of state power.
Sixty years after Japan's pacifist constitution took effect on May 3, 1947, the debate over what it symbolizes and whether it should be altered rages on.
This year, however, as Constitution Day is marked today the country's conservative politicians are moving closer to their long-held goal of revising the U.S.-drafted charter.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to rewrite the constitution as part of his effort to shed a U.S.-imposed "postwar regime" and clarify the status of the country's armed forces, made ambiguous by the charter's Article 9, which renounces the right to wage war to settle international disputes and, if taken literally, rules out a standing military.
As a first step to revision, Abe's government aims to enact later this month a law setting out procedures for the national referendum needed to adopt constitutional changes once they are approved by two-thirds of the members of each house of parliament.
"It has always been important since the end of the Occupation. Always. Every day," said Hisahiko Okazaki, 77, who advises Abe on security issues, explaining the need for revision.
"But we didn't have the numbers. It is illegal to enact a fundamental law during a military occupation."
Japanese leaders who endorsed the constitution at the time felt they had to accept Article 9 to preserve the imperial system and to protect Emperor Hirohito, in whose name World War Two had been fought.
Article 9's limits have been stretched not only to allow maintenance of Japan's Self-defense Forces, as its military is known, but also in recent years to permit overseas military activities, including the deployment by Abe's predecessor of troops on a non-combat mission to a de facto war zone in Iraq.
Still, hurdles to formal revisions remain substantial.
The LDP and its junior coalition partner would almost certainly need backing from members of the opposition in both houses of parliament to win two-thirds of the votes.
The main opposition Democratic Party is divided on the matter, in theory supporting the concept of rewriting the charter, but disagreeing with the LDP on key matters of content.
Ordinary voters appear at ease with constitutional ambiguity.
Fifty-eight percent of voters responding to a survey by the liberal Asahi newspaper published yesterday favored some revisions to the constitution, against 27 percent who saw no need.
Fifty-six percent wanted to recognize the Self-defense Forces in the constitution but 49 percent opposed revising Article 9 itself, compared with 33 percent who preferred changing it.
Opponents of changing the charter worry that momentum for revision could mount quickly. Once the referendum law is enacted, a vote can be held after three years.
"A very small number of people could revise the constitution. That is not democracy," said Mizuho Fukushima, noting that the bill does not specify minimum voter turnout.
Even before formal revisions can take place, Abe looks likely to change a long-standing government interpretation of the constitution that bans Japan from exercising its right to collective self-defense, or defending an ally under attack.
The U.S. administration has made clear it would welcome that step, as it would the revision of Article 9 itself.
Members of a new panel set up to advise Abe on the topic said the planned deployment of a U.S.-Japan missile defense system was one matter making change in the interpretation urgent.
Article 9 garners the most attention, but defenders of the constitution say proposed changes would go well beyond security policy to the basic relationship between citizens and the state.
"The core of the Constitution is that the power of the state is restrained to protect the rights of individuals, but in the LDP draft, the state would control the people," Fukushima said.


Updated : 2021-04-10 20:31 GMT+08:00