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2016年7月13日 (水)

自公が国政選4連勝 「後出し改憲」に信はない

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 11
EDITORIAL: Election victory is not a mandate to change the Constitution
(社説)自公が国政選4連勝 「後出し改憲」に信はない

The outcome of the July 10 Upper House election has turned out to be a watershed in the nation's postwar politics.

In the 1956 Upper House election, the Socialists, along with other parties, erected a sort of legislative wall by securing more than one-third of the seats to prevent the newly formed Liberal Democratic Party from carrying out its pledge to amend the Constitution.
Six decades on, the wall in the Upper House has now crumbled. It had already gone in the Lower House.

The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, won a crushing victory in the election. The four pro-amendment parties, which include Initiatives from Osaka, together with some independent members who support the idea but didn’t face election this year, now control more than two-thirds of the chamber. The LDP and Komeito already have a two-thirds majority in the Lower House. Constitutional amendments can be initiated by the Diet through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each chamber.

Rewriting the Constitution, of course, is a very complicated political challenge, and these numbers don’t mean the process will move forward immediately.

The four pro-amendment parties have widely different political agendas. Komeito, in particular, is increasingly cautious about pushing through any initiative to amend the Constitution.

There is, however, no doubt that debate on constitutional amendments will gain traction in the Diet in the coming months as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to activate the Commission on the Constitution in both houses during the next Diet session. In the process, the prospects of actual changes in the Constitution will increase gradually.

This is the first time that the postwar Constitution faces a realistic possibility of amendments being made. It’s nothing less than a critical turning point for Japan’s postwar politics.


Before the election campaign kicked off, Abe expressed his desire to carry out constitutional amendments while he was in office. But he avoided addressing the issue head-on during the campaign.

The election is now over, and Abe is again ratcheting up his rhetoric about constitutional change.
We have to say Abe's approach to realize his long-held political aspiration is insincere.

Exactly what kind of message did Japanese voters send out in the poll?

Abe said the key election issues were the appropriateness of his decision to again postpone a rise in the consumption tax rate and whether his economic policy, known as "Abenomics," should be promoted further.

As for the consumption tax rate increase, Katsuya Okada, president of the main opposition Democratic Party, had already called for it to be delayed before Abe announced his decision. The party pointed to the limitations of Abenomics but failed to offer a convincing alternative.

The LDP, on the other hand, promised to achieve a “virtuous cycle of growth and distribution,” a slogan that is reminiscent of the Democratic Party’s pledge to pursue both “distribution and growth.”

The opposition parties focused their campaigning on blocking the Abe administration’s bid to amend the Constitution. But the prime minister did not respond to their challenge.

There was no detailed debate on energy policy, which is facing the crucial decision of whether to promote or phase out nuclear power generation.

All in all, the election campaign was short on vital elements that could strongly affect voters’ decisions at the ballot box.

Abe argued that his efforts to revitalize the economy through Abenomics have not been a failure, but still have a long way to go. Many voters may have cast ballots for the status quo in a “wait-and-see” stance even though they were not fully sold on Abe’s argument.


Why did Abe not talk much about his desire to amend the Constitution?

He has probably learned a lesson from his bitter experience with regard to the 2007 Upper House election, when he campaigned on a pledge to seek the initiation of constitutional amendments in 2010. He resigned after the ruling party took a drubbing in the poll.

Abe apparently thought that the more he talked eagerly about his wish to rewrite the Constitution in specific terms the more likely the public would react negatively to his case.

Abe also pointed out that any proposal to amend the Constitution has to be approved by the public through a national referendum and said it was not vital to discuss the issue in an election campaign.

But he is wrong. The due process of amending the Constitution should be composed of three stages. First, a specific proposal to change the Constitution should be made a key topic for an election. Then, the elected representatives of the people should have mature debate on the proposal at the Diet for the purpose of building broad consensus. And finally, the proposal should be put to a national referendum for public approval.

If he really believes it is not necessary to listen to the people’s opinions about a proposal to amend the Constitution until the Diet initiates the amendment, Abe has the wrong idea about to whom the Constitution belongs.

Abe himself has admitted that there is no agreement on which provision should be amended first. This is clear evidence that there is no urgent need to change the Constitution.

The outcome of the election doesn’t at all mean Abe has a public mandate to amend the Constitution.


Whether he will immediately start taking steps toward constitutional amendments or not, it is certain that Abe now has a very strong power base after four consecutive wins in national elections.

This is not simply about the ruling camp’s overwhelming majority in both houses. Since he returned to power in December 2012, Abe has appointed individuals he favors for posts that should be independent of political power, such as the Bank of Japan governor, the chief of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and the governors of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK).

Abe is also putting unprecedented political pressure on appointments to senior posts at ministries and agencies through the Cabinet bureau of personnel affairs.

There is no political force in the nation’s governing system that can counter or check the huge political power Abe has amassed.

Meanwhile, four opposition parties, including the Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, fielded their unified candidates for all of the 32 single-seat constituencies in the election. They formed an electoral alliance for the common goals of repealing the national security legislation and thwarting Abe’s attempt to amend the Constitution.
The opposition alliance has proved effective, at least to a certain degree. But it has failed to shape up as a powerful national movement that can give a unified voice to public criticism about the Abe administration.

As the election campaigning entered its final stage, the opposition coalition came under fierce attack from the ruling camp, which denounced their partnership as an unprincipled coalition for political convenience. In particular, the ruling camp roundly criticized the Democratic Party and its non-communist allies for campaigning with the JCP, which regards the existence of the Self-Defense Forces as unconstitutional.

If they hadn’t formed the alliance, however, they would have lost in even more of the single-seat constituencies. Their electoral cooperation has been meaningful from this point of view.

Under the current election system, nearly 300 of the 475 Lower House seats are contested in single-seat constituencies. Single-seat constituencies are also vital for the overall outcomes of Upper House elections.
An electoral alliance is undoubtedly the most effective way for smaller opposition parties to fight against the dominant ruling camp under this system.

The opposition parties need to figure out an effective formula for their alliance for the next Lower House election, which will enable voters to choose their government.
If they fail to do so, the LDP is likely to continue winning overwhelming election victories.


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