Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#203】Constitutional Amendments Required for a Strong Japan

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2013.07.25 (Thu)

July 22, 2013

      Seven months after its inauguration, the Shinzo Abe administration of the Liberal Democratic Party achieved the ruling party's landslide victory in a House of Councillors election, putting an end to the so-called “twisted Diet.” Unless Prime Minister Abe dissolves the House of Representatives on his own, Japan will have no Diet elections over the coming three years. The focus of attention for the precious period is how far Abe could restore a strong Japan.
After the just-ended Upper House election, the Abe administration has many challenges to tackle. Domestic challenges include his economic growth strategy, planned consumption tax hikes, negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and the pending restart of nuclear reactors. On diplomatic and national security fronts, the Abe administration has a host of challenges to address, including the defense of the Senkaku Islands by checking actions by China, an arrogant military power, the approval of Japan's exercise of collective self-defense rights, the creation of a national security council (or a Japanese-version NSC) and the preparation of a defense program outline.

Hesitancy is a matter of concern
      If the second Abe administration is firmly determined to restore a strong Japan, however, it should not delay constitutional amendments. Unless the Constitution is amended to “end the postwar regime” as called for by the first Abe administration, Abe may fail to restore a strong Japan.
      Regrettably, however, I hear a hesitant statement that the administration should wait until the next national elections before moving to amend the Constitution. This is because the administration is afraid of seeing any constitutional amendment being turned down in a national referendum even after being initiated by the Diet with a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Diet under Article 96 of the Constitution. If any constitutional amendment fails to be approved with a simple majority in a referendum, the cabinet may be forced to resign en masse.
      Abe is coming under pressure within the LDP to focus on his growth strategy as the third pillar of his Abenomics economic policy until the next elections, which could be same-day elections of the Upper and Lower Houses in 2016. Bureaucrats, who give top priority to conserving the status quo, may put a brake on Abe's racing toward any constitutional amendment, asserting that the administration has many other challenges to tackle, including the consumption tax hikes.

Build a consensus on constitutional amendments
      “An advantageous position, harmony among people and a roll of the dice”― teachings of Confucian Mencius―are indispensable for achieving constitutional amendments to reshape the country. The first Abe cabinet enacted the national referendum law and the second Abe cabinet achieved a landslide Upper House election victory. The time has come to amend the Constitution. The Abe cabinet should go ahead with procedures for constitutional amendments as well as a revision to the interpretation of the Constitution regarding collective self-defense rights, the creation of a Japanese-version NSC and other reforms for the immediate future. As the national referendum law sets the minimum age of eligible voters at 18, the administration may also have to propose to lower the age in the public offices election law from 20 to 18.
      A consensus must be built on why the Constitution's Article 96 for constitutional amendment procedures should be revised. High approval rates for the Abe administration indicate expectations placed on political reforms as well as the Abenomics economic reforms. Unless Article 96 is revised first, it may be difficult to amend other constitutional provisions. After the Upper House election victory that ended the Diet division, the Abe administration should grab a chance to promote constitutional amendments.

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