PM Abe aims to revise Japan's charter by 2020

The original Japanese Constitution and its copies on the wall on display on Tuesday at an exhibition at the National Archives of Japan in Tokyo to commemorate the charter's 70th anniversary.
The original Japanese Constitution and its copies on the wall on display on Tuesday at an exhibition at the National Archives of Japan in Tokyo to commemorate the charter's 70th anniversary.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

War-renouncing Article 9 will remain but clauses will explicitly state mandate of Self-Defence Forces

Two days after promising to take a "historic step" this year to set in motion a revision of Japan's pacifist Constitution, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday announced his goal to enact the amended charter by 2020.

This is the first time he has set a date for Japan's first revision to its supreme law, and the new document, Mr Abe said, is meant to kill any doubt that the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) are unconstitutional.

Mr Abe made his remarks in a video message at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the United States-written charter. Japan, whose growing defence budget ranks among the top 10 in the world, has consistently argued that the Constitution does not ban it from maintaining the ability to defend itself.

Mr Abe said that to reinforce the country's commitment to pacifism, he intends to leave the wording of the war-renouncing Article 9 untouched, though he did not say if this was due to a split public opinion over changing of the article.

Instead, he intends to insert clauses to the Constitution that explicitly state the mandate of the SDF so that there will be no room for the "irresponsible contention that it is unconstitutional given their role to safeguard Japan".

 
 
 

Article 9 now reads: "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

It adds: "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 recognised."

Yesterday, Mr Abe said: "The 1964 Tokyo Olympics had marked the rebirth of Japan. The renewed confidence became the driving force in its rapid growth towards becoming an advanced country.

"Likewise, Tokyo will host the Olympics again in 2020, making it a year that can kick off a new Japan. I strongly hope the new Constitution can be enacted by then, to open up a new future for the country."

He told a bipartisan conference on constitutional reform on Monday that the time was ripe to push for a revision of the Constitution, calling for a specific plan and for discussions to be deepened in the Diet.

Any change to the Constitution will need to be tabled in the Diet and then put up for debate in both the Lower and Upper Houses.

The revised charter must win the support of at least two-thirds of lawmakers in each House, which the ruling coalition of Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and junior partner Komeito currently hold.

A Lower House election is due by December next year, but the main opposition Democratic Party is hurt by approval ratings that are in the single digits and plagued by a series of high-profile cadre resignations. The LDP in March approved new rules that allow its leader to hold a third consecutive term, making it likely that Mr Abe will stay on until 2021 to see his long-held goal to fruition.

Meanwhile, Mr Abe said that the Constitution will also be amended to offer free tertiary education - beyond the nine years of elementary and middle school education that the document currently covers.

"We want to build a Japan where regardless of their economic situation, children will be able to work towards their respective dreams," he said. "Free education, as institutionalised 70 years ago, had been a major driving force for Japan's post- war development. Today, we need to open up access to higher education for all our citizens."

While the LDP is considering government bonds to cover the 3.1 trillion yen (S$38.5 billion) required annually for this, some lawmakers from the party are said to be hesitant as this would pass on debt to future generations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'PM Abe aims to revise Japan's charter by 2020'. Print Edition | Subscribe