Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#196】Japan Must First Revise Article 96 to Become Stronger

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2013.06.05 (Wed)

June 3, 2013


       If politicians abandon their offensive posture when they should fight, they will surely lose their leadership under constitutional government. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has turned defensive, refraining from vowing to revise constitutional amendment procedures in Article 96 of the Constitution ahead of any other constitutional amendments in its draft campaign pledge for this summer's House of Councillors election. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should hold fast to his original plan to tackle the Upper House election by emphasizing his determination to revise the Constitution to make Japan stronger.

Shaken expectations on Abe's leadership
       Article 96 of the Constitution requires a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members at each of the two Diet chambers for calling a referendum on constitutional amendments. Abe had planned to emphasize his proposal to lower the requirement to a simple majority in the coming Upper House election campaigns. As the plan to revise Article 96 before amending any other part of the constitution has come under fire, however, Abe has begun to explain that voters' support for the proposal is not necessarily strong. A wrong judgment that the proposal would be disadvantageous for the LDP in the election has grown dominant within the party. Other factors behind the change might include a negative attitude of the LDP's coalition partner the New Komeito party about the proposal and the declining influence of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) which strongly supports the amendment of Article 96..
       Abe has turned defensive as the election has approached. Dose this turn reflect the trauma of the LDP's great defeat in the 2007 Upper House election under the first Abe cabinet? At present, voters do not support empty or cosmetic slogans of the previously governing Democratic Party of Japan calling for "putting the people's life first" or "new public commons." Facing the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Senkaku Islands crisis, the people are pursuing a strong political leader who is ambitious to defend Japan's sovereignty and the people's life. I would like Prime Minister Abe to make bold decisions rather than offering superficial carrots to attract voters.
       The LDP's draft campaign pledge calls for possessing national defense forces and easing the constitutional amendment requirement in Article 96 of the Constitution. But it fails to specify the Article 96 revision as coming ahead of any other constitutional amendments. Approval ratings reaching 70% for the Abe administration represent voters' expectations on Abe's strong politics as well as Abenomics economic reforms. Unless Article 96 is revised first, other constitutional amendments will be very difficult. If the LDP finally fails to include the advanced Article 96 revision into the campaign pledge, voters' confidence in Prime Minister Abe will be shaken.

Article 96 effectively blocks any constitutional amendment
       Article 96 has been designed to make it difficult for Japan to amend the Constitution and rebel militarily against the United States again. For pro-Constitution people who have an old belief that the Constitution binds state authorities, the article has served as a convenient tool to block any constitutional amendments. Unless constitutional amendment procedures are tough, the Constitution may be amended every time when government changes, these people say in an effort to gloss over their view.
       But even the planned simple majority of all members of each of the two chambers would not be easy to secure for the Diet to call a referendum on constitutional amendments. In the United States, a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate is required as well for initiating constitutional amendments. In fact, however, this majority means two-thirds of a quorum at a simple majority. Theoretically, concurring votes by one-third or more of the total number of lawmakers each in the House and Senate can initiate constitutional amendments.
       The two-thirds majority requirement and the national referendum indicate that the Japanese Constitution is the most difficult to amend in the world. I would like the LDP to hold fast to shaping an independent Japan without fearing any Upper House election trauma.

Hiroshi Yuasa is Columnist for the Sankei Shimbun and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.