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2013年4月19日 (金)

憲法96条改正 首相は参院選へ議論主導せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun April 18, 2013
Abe should lead debate on top law revision ahead of upper house poll
憲法96条改正 首相は参院選へ議論主導せよ(4月17日付・読売社説)

Japan's current Constitution has not been revised even once since its establishment.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is laying the groundwork to ask voters whether the hurdles to constitutional amendment should be lowered. We applaud Abe's willingness to amend the Constitution to respond to changes in Japan and the international community.

During an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, Abe said he wants to make the issue of revising Article 96 of the Constitution, which stipulates conditions for proposing amendments, a central plank of the Liberal Democratic Party's pledges for this summer's House of Councillors election.

Article 96 stipulates that a revision must be initiated by the Diet through an affirmative vote by two-thirds or more of all members of each chamber, followed by a national referendum in which a majority of the public must support the change.

To make it easier to propose constitutional revisions, the LDP plans to lower the threshold of "two-thirds or more" to "a simple majority."

Komeito still cautious

Abe has met with Toru Hashimoto, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), and they have already agreed on this point. Abe is trying to pave the way for constitutional revision by first reviewing Article 96, a process that some other parties support. We think his idea is realistic.

For Abe, coordination with the LDP's coalition partner New Komeito will be crucial if constitutional revision is to become a reality. Komeito remains cautious about amending Article 96, saying the time is not ripe to do so.

However, leaders of the LDP and Komeito will reportedly hold regular meetings to discuss this matter. We hope Komeito will deepen its deliberations on revising the nation's supreme law.

The Democratic Party of Japan insists that discussions on concrete details of the revisions, rather than tweaking Article 96 itself, are necessary. But it is the DPJ that should be discussing the content of possible revisions. The LDP has already compiled a draft of constitutional revisions in which the existence of the Self-Defense Forces would be spelled out in Article 9.

There might be resistance to changing Article 96. This is because the United States and Germany still require an affirmative vote of "two-thirds or more" in their legislatures as a condition for revisions, although they do not hold national referendums on proposed changes to their constitutions. These countries have altered their top laws many times. Why has Japan been unable to do the same?

Systemic obstacles

After World War II, the Japan Socialist Party, which championed the principle of unarmed neutrality, and other political parties held a degree of power in the Diet. They trumpeted that militarism would be revived if the Constitution was revised. The LDP, for its part, promoted policies that put the economy first and shied away from making an active commitment to revise the Constitution.

The electoral system also has hindered constitutional revision. Since the multiple-seat constituency system was introduced, no ruling party has held two-thirds or more of the seats in both Diet chambers. Under the current system, in which proportional representation elections that give consideration to small parties were introduced in parts of both houses, it became difficult for ruling parties to secure at least two-thirds of the seats in either chamber--until the House of Representatives election in December.

July's upper house election could, depending on the results, create conditions in which constitutional revision will become realistically possible for the first time. The upcoming election is extremely important because it will also affect Japan's future course.

There are a wide array of points to be discussed regarding the Constitution, including Article 96, the preamble, national security, the bicameral system, local autonomy and environmental rights. Each party should actively debate these matters.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 17, 2013)
(2013年4月17日01時21分  読売新聞)


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