Japan’s conservative ruling party is gearing up for a new push to achieve its long-sought goal of revising the country’s U.S.-drafted postwar Constitution. Its first challenge: winning over a divided public.
Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and other supporters rallied Friday ahead of Sunday’s Constitution Day holiday, when Japan’s democratic and war-renouncing charter took effect 68 years ago.
The party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has resumed meetings of its constitutional revision panel after a two-year recess, and last week started distributing a cartoon pamphlet to raise public awareness and drum up support.
Backers of a revision denounce the 1947 Constitution as one imposed by the United States, which occupied Japan from the end of World War II until 1952. They say it’s outdated and inadequate for today’s society.
Amending the Constitution won’t be easy. But if successful, the LDP hopes to introduce a proposed revision after next year’s Upper House election.
They have achieved some of their key policy goals in defense, national security and other areas, so Abe and his party members can now focus on the Constitution.
“Obstacles for a revision to the Constitution have been mostly removed,” participants said in a resolution adopted at the end of Friday’s rally, attended by hundreds of lawmakers and supporters. “The only remaining issue that we need to address is the sovereign people.”
Hajime Funada, head of the LDP’s team promoting constitutional revision, said it’s time to begin discussing details of a proposed revision. He says the party plans to make revisions in several waves, and that he hopes to make a first round of revisions within two years.
The party has advocated revision for decades, but has had difficulty convincing the public.
Opponents have expressed concerns the revisions will backpedal from democracy and individual rights.
A 2012 draft proposed by the LDP promoted a conformist Japan with traditional patriarchal values, which place family units above individuals and elevate the emperor to head of state, rather than symbol of the state. It says civil liberties such as freedom of speech and expression can be restricted if considered harmful to the public interest. The draft also called for amending Article 9 of the Constitution, which bans the maintenance of war potential and the use of force to settle international disputes, to formally upgrade the Self-Defense Forces to a military, while keeping pacifist promises.
Over the years, Japan has steadily expanded its defense role by reinterpreting war-renouncing Article 9. Abe’s government last July made another reinterpretation of it that allows Japan’s military to defend the U.S. and other foreign armed forces even when Japan isn’t under direct attack, a major change that took place without formally revising the Constitution.
The move has upset much of the public. Many see Abe’s reinterpretation as undermining the Constitution and democracy, and have raised skepticism about the process.
“It was an unnatural, wrong procedure not expected under the Constitution, and many people are aware of that,” Asaho Mizushima, a Waseda University law professor, told a televised interview, speaking of the most recent reinterpretation.
Funada said the LDP is open to further discussion and changes, and that the party plans to keep a divisive Article 9 revision till the end.
Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, 96, has long campaigned for a revision and told Friday’s rally that the current Constitution is “too abstract” and lacks values and principles based on Japan’s own traditions.
“I would like to raise public awareness with our active discussions and earnest efforts so we can advance on a new path toward revising the Constitution,” he said. “I hope to fire up debate on the Constitution this year as we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.”