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Yoshiko Sakurai

【#439】Abe’s Grave Political Decision for Constitutional Amendment

Yoshiko Sakurai / 2017.05.18 (Thu)


May 15, 2017

     On May 3, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a boost to stagnant debates on constitutional amendment in Japan. Abe said he would like to (1) put an amended constitution into force by 2020, (2) add a stipulation clarifying the existence of the Self-Defense Forces with Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 9 maintained and (3) secure free education in the constitution under the principle that excellent human resources are a national foundation.

“Politics is about results”
     Paragraph 1 of Article 9 secures pacifism. Paragraph 2 declares non-possession of military forces or disarmament, providing: “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
     How would the presence of the SDF be justified with Paragraph 2 maintained in the constitution? At a May 1 meeting of suprapartisan group of lawmakers for enacting a new constitution, chaired by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Abe clarified the reason for sending the contradictory message:
     “As the time is ripe to amend the constitution, specific proposals are required. Politics is about results. However excellent constitutional amendment proposals are, they, including a draft amendment by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, would end up as mere proposals unless a two-thirds majority is secured in the both houses of the Diet.”
     In the 15-minute speech at the group, Abe deviated from his manuscript and repeatedly said: “Politicians are not commentators or scholars. Politicians should not be complacent with excellent remarks alone.”
     He sent the message not only to commentators and scholars of anti-amendment camp but also to pro-amendment conservatives: Are you just saying it? Are you making excellent remarks without looking at real politics? This is the same case with his statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, over which reaction of the conservatives was divided.
     On May 9, Abe gave a lecture at the Diet to Democratic Party leader Renho who kept asking silly questions. “Politicians should not only make excellent remarks but also produce results.”
     Abe is asking a question to political parties and politicians: A decade has passed since the Commission on the Constitution was created in each of the two Diet chambers. Why do you implement nothing?

Responsibility for deleting Paragraph 2 of Article 9
     To produce results, Prime Minister Abe would like to ally with the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito party which calls for adding new clauses to the constitution rather than changing the current articles, with the Japan Innovation Party which gives priority to free advanced education and with pro-amendment lawmakers of the Democratic Party, the largest opposition group. Abe has made a political decision to avoid backlash from public opinion and unite a wide range of forces even at cost of refraining from the deletion of Paragraph 2 of Article 9 that would have to be given top priority as far as constitutional amendment is concerned. I cannot but to give a high rating to the political decision.
     If Japan misses an opportunity we have under the Abe government, any constitutional amendment will probably become distant again. We should not take commentators’ stance of making excellent remarks alone on this occasion. Instead, it is important for us to contribute to devising specific provision for making Paragraph 2 of Article 9 consistent with a Paragraph 3 that will stipulate the existence of the SDF.
     At the same time, we are responsible for looking at realities in a dimension different from that of politicians and for proposing what the Japanese constitution should be from the long-term perspective. Given the difficult circumstances surrounding Japan and Japan’s desirable course to be taken, the deletion of Paragraph 2 of Article 9 is undoubtedly a right goal. We are responsible for struggling in pursuit of what the constitutional amendment should be until the goal is attained.

Yoshiko Sakurai is President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.