Japan voters split on revising pacifist Constitution: Poll

TOKYO • Voters in Japan are deeply divided over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's campaign to revise its 70-year-old pacifist Constitution, according to a poll released yesterday, against a backdrop of growing tension in the region, particularly over North Korea.

The Nikkei Inc/TV Tokyo survey, published on the anniversary of the Constitution's enactment, shows support growing for Mr Abe's push to revise the charter.

About 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 last Saturday. It has also threatened to attack Japan.

North Korea on Tuesday accused the United States of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of strategic American bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces.

Under Article 9 of its charter, Japan forever renounces its right to wage war, leaving it open to interpretation whether it should maintain forces and how they could be used.

Successive governments have interpreted the Constitution as allowing a military for "self-defence" only, and Japanese troops have taken part in international peacekeeping operations, as well as a non-combat reconstruction mission in Iraq during 2004-2006.

Under Mr Abe's watch, 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 members of both Houses of Parliament and a majority of voters in a referendum.

In March, Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party formally proposed that the government consider acquiring the capability to strike enemy bases and beef up missile defence in the face of the North Korean threat.

Acquiring such weapons would likely anger China, where bitter memories of Japan's wartime aggression run deep.

A separate poll released by Kyodo News last Saturday shows 49 per cent of respondents said Article 9 needed to be revised, against 47 per cent opposing a change.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'Japan voters split on revising pacifist Constitution: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe