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2014年6月 1日 (日)

(社説)憲法と国民 決定権は私たちにある

May 31, 2014
EDITORIAL: Abe not empowered to change Constitution any way he likes
(社説)憲法と国民 決定権は私たちにある

While debate is raging over the proposal to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense by reinterpreting the Constitution, the bill to revise the national referendum law, which defines the procedure for constitutional amendments, is set to pass the Diet and become law during the current session.

The bill sets the voting age for constitutional referendums, something which had not been clear, at 20 and lowers it to 18 four years after the revision comes into effect.

Some important issues, including the proposal to lower the legal adult age, have been left unsettled. But the revision to the law will at least fill the hole in the legal procedure for the Diet to ask the public to vote for or against a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

Sixty-seven years have passed since the postwar Constitution came into force. Traditionally, debates over constitutional issues have pitted people seeking to rewrite the supreme law against those committed to keeping it unchanged. But the revision will open up a new era for constitutional debates.

The current legislative situation rules out the possibility that the Diet will immediately initiate any amendment to a specific article of the Constitution through a concurring vote of a two-third majority of all the members of each house and submit it to the people for ratification at a special referendum.

Even so, both the proponents of constitutional amendments and the opponents of such proposals will have to make their respective cases under the pressure of a new situation in which amendments are actually possible.

The Constitution has played an extremely significant role in the postwar development of Japan. The constitutional principles of popular sovereignty, respect for basic human rights and pacifism have functioned as the basic foundation of society. These are values we should keep upholding.

There is no need, however, to regard all 103 articles of the Constitution as completely untouchable.

There are many constitutional issues that are open to debate. The legislative gridlock due to a so-called twisted Diet with the Upper House under opposition control underscored the need to reconsider the relationship between the two houses, for instance. Another key issue is the division of roles between the central and local governments.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is advocating a revision to Article 96, which stipulates the procedure for constitutional amendments, as well as a change in the government interpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 to make it possible for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

But these proposals are attempts to tackle key constitutional issues in a not-so-above-board manner by taking advantage of the wide gap between calls for rewriting the Constitution entirely and total opposition to any amendment. We cannot support Abe’s constitutional initiatives.

During deliberations on Japan’s right to collective self-defense at both houses of the Diet, Abe expressed his strong desire to change the government’s interpretation of the Constitution with regard to the issue in order to pave the way for Self-Defense Forces operations for the protection of U.S. warships and the elimination of mines in the Persian Gulf.

In answering related questions at the Diet, Abe repeatedly stressed that the initiative is for the protection of the people’s lives and security.

His remarks clearly showed his enthusiasm for the security policy initiative. But that has made it even harder to understand why he is not trying to propose to the public a revision to the Constitution to realize his idea.

Let us remember the basic principles of constitutional government.

We entrust the government we have elected to enact and revise laws and enforce them appropriately. But we don’t give the government a carte blanche to change the Constitution in any way it likes.

Only the people have the right to make the final decision on any change to the Constitution, which is secured by the requirement of a national referendum for a constitutional amendment.

No government, no matter how much public support it enjoys, should be allowed trample on this cardinal principle.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 31


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