Japan's LDP should make Constitution change to deter North Korea an election pledge: Lawmaker

A group of lawmakers including Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Hidehisa Otsuji (right) sip sake as a ritual after offering prayers for the war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug 15, 2017.
A group of lawmakers including Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Hidehisa Otsuji (right) sip sake as a ritual after offering prayers for the war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug 15, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) should make it an election pledge to change the nation's pacifist constitution as a way to strengthen deterrence against North Korea's provocations, a senior party lawmaker said.

In an interview on Tuesday (Sept 19), Mr Masahiko Shibayama said the party should campaign for a possible election next month on revising the pacifist Article 9 of the constitution.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to change it to make clear the legitimacy of Japan's Self-Defence Forces.

"We can't permit North Korea to keep making threats and ignoring the rules. We need a deterrent for those threats," said Mr Shibayama, 51. "We should add a promise to revise the constitution to the party's manifesto as a part of developing a security framework."

Mr Shibayama, the deputy director-general of a party group on constitutional revision and adviser to LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, said deterrence towards North Korea would likely become an issue in a general election expected next month.

Mr Abe is set to announce the dissolution of parliament for a snap poll, possibly on Oct 22, at a press conference on Monday, local media have reported.

North Korea's recent spate of missile and nuclear tests has unnerved Japanese voters and more than two-thirds of respondents to an NHK poll last week approve of Mr Abe's strong line on the isolated nation.

Another reason why Mr Abe may call an election is that the main opposition Democratic Party appears to be unravelling with the resignation of several members since a new leader was voted in earlier this month.

Mr Seiji Maehara, the new head of the Democratic Party, said on Sunday that an election at a time when North Korea is threatening Japan risks creating a political vacuum, and that Mr Abe was seeking to escape questions from lawmakers on a series of cronyism scandals.

Rewriting the constitution has been a longstanding goal of the LDP whose original members - including Mr Abe's grandfather, who was a prime minister - saw the document as a US imposition that humiliated Japan after World War II.

Article 9 of that law renounces the right to war and prohibits land, sea and air forces. Yet trying to change it also carries risks. The public is divided on the issue and some members of Mr Abe's own party don't support it.

The ambiguous constitutional status of the Self-Defence Forces has resulted in arcane debates over limits on their role.

A study by consultant Deloitte found that Japan, as a result, had the least aggressive defence posture of 18 Asia-Pacific nations it compared this year, based on seven parameters, such as military spending as a proportion of the economy.

Any constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, followed by a referendum. In an October election, it would be crucial for Mr Abe's ruling coalition to retain this "supermajority" in the lower chamber.