Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his willingness to amend part of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution during a meeting on Feb. 3 of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.
"There is a view that we should correct the situation in which 70 percent of constitutional scholars suspect the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) is in violation of the Constitution," Abe told the Budget Committee.
Abe made the statement when he was asked about constitutional amendment at the panel. Abe was referring to the second paragraph of the article that stipulates, "Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." The paragraph of the article has been serving as the basis for arguments that the SDF is in fact unconstitutional.
Tomomi Inada, chairwoman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Policy Research Council, prompted Abe to talk about constitutional amendment. "Leaving the second paragraph of Article 9 that does not fit into the reality will hollow out constitutionalism," Inada said, calling on Abe to express his view on the issue.
Prime Minister Abe went on to say, "As the Constitution was created during the occupation period, there are some parts of it that do not fit into the present age." Abe has been making remarks about constitutional amendment since the turn of the year, prompting many ruling party officials to say something like "By holding out his cause, he is aiming to explore the possibility of holding double elections of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors or dissolving the lower house by the end of this year."
There are strong views within the LDP that efforts to amend the Constitution should begin with creating a new article designed to handle "emergency situations." At a session of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution in 2014, the LDP, the Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito, the then Japan Restoration Party and some other parties agreed to make debate on the envisioned new article the starting point of overall deliberations on constitutional amendment. That's because it is more realistic to change the Constitution by adding such a new article. According to officials close to the prime minister, Abe is positive about starting with creating a new article on "emergency situations" and aiming to realize it during his term in office.
However, for the LDP, which is making constitutional amendment its key policy platform, such a change had been synonymous with "revising Article 9." Conservative members of the LDP have been raising their voice that their party should ride a wave of strong public support for Abe's Cabinet to squarely debate a revision to Article 9 of the Constitution. Inada asked Abe about his view on Article 9 in the Diet because she intended to speak on behalf of the conservatives.
There are objections within the LDP to bringing debate on revising Article 9 to the forefront ahead of this summer's upper house election. A senior official of Komeito expressed displeasure with Inada's latest remarks on the Constitution in the Diet, saying, "It is something like giving ammunition to opposition parties."
Prime Minister Abe said initial items to be amended should be determined after debate deepens in the Diet and among the public. But if debate on revising Article 9 heats up, it could turn into a headwind for the LDP in the upcoming upper house election as the spotlight could be placed on the pros and cons of Abe's policy of changing the Constitution rather than joint efforts by both ruling and opposition parties to revise the supreme law.
Katsuya Okada, head of the biggest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, expressed his intention to grill Abe on his views about constitutional amendment, telling reporters, "I believe the prime minister is aiming for constitutional amendment to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense with no limit (by revising Article 9)." Takashi Ishizeki, Diet affairs chief of the Japan Innovation Party, said, "Against the backdrop of (favorable) public-opinion polls, he got carried away and started to reveal his honest feelings."