Japanese warm to idea of revising Constitution amid Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic may have given new wind to a bid by Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to revise the Constitution, and several media surveys show the public is growing warmer to the idea of amending the supreme law.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been far less strident than his predecessor Shinzo Abe in championing changes to the law. But he said yesterday at a forum to mark Constitution Memorial Day that the government must be enabled with powers to act in emergencies such as natural disasters and pandemics.

The pacifist top law, drafted by the United States, came into force 74 years ago on May 3, 1947.

Mr Suga, noting the law now does not include an "emergency clause", said: "More than 70 years have passed since the current Constitution was enacted, and we should revise those parts that are unsuitable or inadequate for the times."

He said Japan's experience with Covid-19 has shown that it was "extremely serious and important" to discuss such a clause to allow the Cabinet to temporarily limit the freedoms of people in a major disaster or pandemic.

Japan is seeing a fourth Covid-19 wave, with the number of patients in serious condition climbing to a new high of 1,084 yesterday.

Still, domestic media have cited LDP insiders as saying that Mr Suga has been far less enthusiastic about investing political capital in the controversial cause, distracted by the pandemic and the Olympics in a pivotal election year.

Talks in the party over changes to the law have all but stalled since he took over from Mr Abe last September.

Changing the Constitution requires the approval of two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers of Japan's legislature and a simple majority in a public referendum.

The idea of war remains uncomfortable to many Japanese, who have associated revisions to the top law to tweaking the pacifist Article 9. The Article now states: "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."

The government argues that the country's Self-Defence Forces is stuck in a constitutional grey zone and needs legitimacy by codifying its mandate into the top law.

Media surveys show that opposition to constitutional changes may be softening, though the public remains split.

Polls by the Yomiuri daily and Kyodo News show that nearly six in 10 said the top law should be revised to add an emergency provision.

A survey by the Mainichi newspaper said 48 per cent were in favour of constitutional revision, up 12 percentage points from last year, with 31 per cent against.

But an NHK poll suggested public uncertainty: As many as 42 per cent were undecided, with 33 per cent in favour and 20 per cent against.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2021, with the headline 'Japanese warm to idea of revising Constitution amid Covid-19'. Subscribe