TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament on Thursday that he intends to change the country's post-World War II constitution, lowering the bar for further amendments.
"I will start with amending Article 96 of the constitution, a move that many factions (inside his Liberal Democratic Party) support," Mr Abe told upper house lawmakers, referring to the clause stipulating amendments require a two-thirds majority in parliament.
In the run-up to his landslide election victory in December, Mr Abe said he wanted to study the possibility of altering the definition of Japan's armed forces contained in the document.
The country's well-funded and well-equipped military is referred to as the Self-Defence Forces (SDF), and barred from taking aggressive action. Its role is limited to defence of the nation.
Mr Abe has said he would like to look into making the SDF a full-fledged military, a plan that sets alarm bells ringing in Asian countries subject to Japan's sometimes-brutal occupation in the first half of the 20th century.
American occupying forces imposed the constitution in the aftermath of World War II, but its war-renouncing Article Nine is held dear by many Japanese.
Critics of the current constitution say the article complicates Japan's right of self-defence as it says "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".
"In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, 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," it says.
Mr Abe, a third-generation politician whose grandfather was a World War II cabinet member and became a post-war prime minister, has long agitated for revision.
Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers in both houses, and must be ratified by a referendum, where they can pass with a simple majority of those voting.
The LDP and its junior coalition partner New Komeito have a more-than two-thirds majority in the lower house after elections in December, but New Komeito and some factions inside the LDP are cautious about amendments.
The less powerful upper house is controlled by no single party, but the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has the greatest number of seats.
Elections for half of the seats in the upper house must be held later this year.