TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese voters are deeply divided over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's campaign to revise the country's 70-year-old pacifist Constitution, according to a poll released on Wednesday (May 3) against a backdrop of anxiety arising from North Korean tensions.
The Nikkei Inc/TV Tokyo survey, published on the Constitution's anniversary, did show momentum growing in support of Abe's push to revise a charter that was written by the United States after Japan's defeat in World War II and never amended.
The poll showed some 46 per cent of respondents favoured keeping the Constitution as it is, four percentage points lower than a similar poll last year.
The number favouring a change stood at 45 per cent, up five percentage points from a year ago.
Nuclear-armed North Korea has over the past year stepped up missile tests, the most recent of which was a failed launch on Saturday.
Pyongyang accused the United States on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of strategic US bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces.
Abe on Monday cited the increasing severity of the "security situation" as a factor showing the time was right to take the"historic step towards the large goal of constitutional reform,"according to Kyodo News.
"Those members of the public who think of the Constitution as an immortal tome are now a small minority," Abe told a gathering in Tokyo of a cross-party league of lawmakers in favor of constitutional reform, Kyodo said.
In March, Abe's Liberal Democrat ruling party formally proposed that the government consider acquiring the capability to hit enemy bases and to beef up missile defence in the face of the North Korean threat.
Acquiring such weapons would likely raise the ire of China, which has strongly protested deployment of the advanced US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system in South Korea.
Under Article 9 of the Constitution, Japan forever renounces its right to wage war.
Successive governments have interpreted the constitution as allowing a military for "self-defense" only, and Japanese troops have participated in international peace keeping operations, as well as a non-combat reconstruction mission in Iraq during 2004-2006.
Under Abe's watch, Japan's parliament in 2015 voted into law a defence policy shift that could let troops fight overseas for the first time since 1945, but any constitutional revision would require the backing of two-thirds of the lawmakers in both houses of parliament and a majority of voters in a national referendum.
A separate survey released by Kyodo News on Saturday showed 49 per cent of respondents said Article 9 needs to be revised, against 47 per cent opposing a change.