Politics shifts gears after each election. In summer 2016, a House of Councillors election will be held.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in his fourth year after making his comeback as head of the government, appears eager to score a major victory in the upper house race.
Abe opened this year's regular Diet session on Jan. 4, about half a month earlier than usual, and late last year settled a dispute over a reduced consumption tax rate at the strong urging of ruling coalition partner Komeito in an apparent bid to increase the ruling coalition's chance of winning the election.
However, Abe's ultimate goal is apparently not winning the election but revising the postwar Constitution.
On Nov. 28, 2015, Prime Minister Abe told a meeting of Sosei Nippon, a parliamentary league he heads, that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) needs to win the upper house election in a bid to reform all the postwar systems including the Constitution.
"Our point of origin is to change systems including the Constitution which were made while Japan was under occupation. I'd like you to support us in next year's upper house election," he said.
Nov. 3 this year marks the 70th anniversary of the promulgation of the postwar Constitution, and next year marks the 70th anniversary since the Constitution came into force. It has not been revised since then.
Under Article 96 of the Constitution, constitutional revisions must be proposed by a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of all members of each chamber in the Diet and approved by a majority of votes in a national referendum. The clause sets such a high hurdle to prevent the supreme law from being amended only on the wishes of those who temporarily hold a majority in the legislature.
The ruling coalition holds over two-thirds of seats in the House of Representatives but is about 30 short of two-thirds of upper house seats.
Prime Minister Abe's tenure as president of the LDP ends in September 2018. Abe is aiming to stay in power over a long period, but the summer election will be the last upper house race he faces as prime minister unless the LDP's rules are revised to extend his term as party leader.
As such, the prime minister is aiming to score a landslide victory to secure enough seats to propose constitutional revisions.
The 150-day regular Diet session closes on June 1. Prime Minister Abe will chair the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Mie Prefecture in late May shortly before the Diet session ends. Therefore, he can hold the upper house race after demonstrating his achievements at the G7 summit. If Abe is to dissolve the lower house at the end of the Diet session, he can hold a double election for both houses of the Diet in July. But if he at least hints at the possibility of holding a double election, it could drive a wedge into election cooperation between opposition parties. The Diet session schedule that his government has set suggests such intensions of the prime minister.
Prime Minister Abe is expected to emphasize that his government is promoting the dynamic engagement of all citizens and "three new arrows" of the "Abenomics" economic policy mix he promotes in the run-up to the summer election.
The Abe administration is employing a tactic of prioritizing economic policy before an election, winning the election and taking advantage of its majority in the Diet to push through policy issues over which public opinion is sharply divided.
Such a tactic should not be repeated in the upcoming upper house election, as the election could lead to constitutional revisions, which would be the most important shift of gears in the postwar period, depending on its outcome.
There are already moves within the LDP to add a clause on emergency responses to massive disasters to the Constitution as the first step in constitutional amendment. In other words, the LDP is apparently looking to open a crack in the supreme law through what's been called a "trial" amendment and then revise war-renouncing Article 9, the key point in constitutional amendment.
In a Diet debate between party leaders in May last year, Prime Minister Abe made remarks that are interesting in considering why he is so enthusiastic about constitutional revisions.
Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii asked Abe about his views on the Potsdam Declaration that Japan accepted when Japan surrendered in World War II. However, Abe replied, "I'd like to refrain from commenting on that because I haven't read it sufficiently."
Shii focused on part of the declaration that described what Japan did during the war was an act of "embarking on world conquest." At the same time, however, the declaration urged Japan to democratize itself and guarantee freedom of speech and fundamental human rights. Yasuo Hasebe, a constitutional scholar, says, "What a country attacks through a war is the principles of its enemy's Constitution." According to his theory, Japan acquired new constitutional principles by surrendering in a fight over constitutions.
Prime Minister Abe has called for a departure from the postwar regime and claimed that the Allied occupation forces forced the current Constitution on Japan. It is hardly believable that he has not sufficiently read the Potsdam Declaration, which is the beginning of what he calls the postwar regime. He may have avoided commenting on the declaration to cover up his feelings of resistance toward the declaration.
We have no intention of totally rejecting constitutional amendment. We also deny a stereotyped view that those who call for constitutional amendment are belligerent while supporters of the current Constitution are pacifists.
However, the Constitution should not force certain values on people. While Japan's traditions should be maintained, what the Constitution should protect most is universal human rights.
In other words, discussions on revisions to the Constitution, which is the most basic set of rules of the country, should be held from the viewpoint of how to make the country better for people to live in.
The Constitution does not provide for abstract ideas. People can freely enjoy reading novels and listening to music, think that discrimination is wrong and try to improve Japan's relations with other countries, all based on the principles of the Constitution.
Particular importance should be attached to such feelings of the people in discussing constitutional revisions. The Constitution is not for those in power, but for ordinary citizens.