If concrete plans are laid out for the discussion on amending the Constitution, it will draw public attention and help deepen public understanding. That the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has organized the points at issue so as to build a broad consensus deserves credit.
The LDP originally planned to work out its own draft amendment focusing on four points within this year. But the party was unable to reach agreement on issues such as whether or not to stipulate the existence of the Self-Defense Forces — one of the central issues — and instead it went only so far as to organize the key points for discussion.
From the standpoint of gaining wider approval, though, it makes sense not to coerce the drawing together of various opinions, but rather to move ahead carefully with due procedures within the party.
With regard to stipulating the SDF in the top law, the party has included two different opinions in the key points. One proposal is to add to Article 9 a new clause that provides a constitutional basis for the SDF, while maintaining the article’s Paragraph 2, which prohibits having armed forces, as well as other war potential. The other proposal is to delete Paragraph 2 and then to define the purposes and character of the SDF.
Either idea would carry great weight in sweeping away arguments against the constitutionality of the SDF.
The idea of deleting the article’s Paragraph 2 would be easier to understand, as it would clarify the consistency of the top law. On the other hand, however, it would give rise to arguments over whether or not the SDF should be recognized as war potential, which might intensify objections from opposition parties and elsewhere.
Opinions approving of the idea of adding a new clause to Article 9, as proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, hold the preponderance of support within the LDP. But can that position win approval from a number of opposition parties? Given the high hurdles amendments must clear — being initiated by both houses of the Diet and then receiving a majority of the votes in a national referendum — it is necessary to advance the discussion prudently.
Let debate begin
Two ideas were also presented regarding a clause to deal with emergencies in the event of a large-scale disaster: To approve the extension of Diet members’ terms at a time when severe damage would make it impossible to hold a national election; and to concentrate government authority for rescue operations and relief measures.
As a crisis management system for Japan — a disaster-prone nation — the creation of a clause to deal with emergencies is important. Even at a minimum, such provisions as one to extend Diet members’ terms would be required.
Learning from experience, in which law revisions became necessary when various unexpected situations developed in the wakes of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake, the issue of reinforcing the government’s authority should also be thoroughly discussed.
Regarding the elimination of integrated constituencies for House of Councillors elections, the party’s key points contained the idea of adding to the top law a stipulation that at least one member be elected from each prefecture when the election for half the members takes place every three years. This is a self-centered proposal and is deemed questionable.
What is reasonable is also to take up for discussion the division of roles to be assumed by both houses and to tackle such issues as lowering the requirements for the House of Representatives to pass bills for a second time — when they are rejected by the upper house — so as to rectify the situation of “too much power being held by the upper house.”
On education, the party avoided using the expression “free education,” but instead compiled a proposal for the “improvement of the educational environment,” obliging the state to strive hard while reducing the financial burden on the people. The idea of making all higher education free of charge is unreasonable in consideration of the massive financial resources required and of fairness. It can be said the party’s proposal has shifted to a more realistic one.
Abe called on every other party to come up with its own concrete proposals. It is hoped that parties other than the LDP will also actively take part in the discussion to amend the top law.