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Japan Political Pulse: Abe has no time to bask in electoral victory

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (Mainichi)

While the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gained increased power in the July 10 House of Councillors election, the future of the country remains in a haze. Below is a conversation I had with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, 74, the political mentor of the now 61-year-old Abe, about how he sees the election results.

Mainichi: What are your impressions of the election?

Koizumi: Just because the ruling parties won by a landslide, it's not like things are going to change drastically. Things will get tougher in terms of Abenomics.

Mainichi: But victory gives one strength.

Koizumi: Well, it will give the ruling coalition a stronger footing.

Mainichi: It will make foreign diplomacy easier.

Koizumi: (Abe's diplomacy) does have a certain stability to it.

Mainichi: Prime Minister Abe probably got his gumption in elections and tricks to handling government from you.

Koizumi: (Laughing) No, no. It's just the time we live in. It's thanks in part to the disastrous administrations led by the Democratic Party of Japan (now the Democratic Party).

Mainichi: So the Democratic Party (DP) is between a rock and a hard place.

Koizumi: They're a horrible mess. What in the world are they doing?

Mainichi: What are your thoughts on constitutional revision?

Koizumi: The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has to consult the DP about it. The LDP can't just show up with the LDP's draft revised Constitution and say, "We're doing this." That's just not possible.

Mainichi: The current LDP draft Constitution contains more nostalgia toward the past than the draft drawn up during your administration, doesn't it?

Koizumi: I haven't read it.

***

The so-called pro-constitutional-amendment camp took more than two-thirds of the seats in the recent upper house election, securing two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of the Diet -- a necessary first step to initiate proposals for constitutional amendment. However, there appear to be no moves to change war-renouncing Article 9.

And that's not surprising at all, because the very classification of pro-amendment and anti-amendment camps has been questionable all along.

The Japanese mass media has been calling all parties and politicians who do not deny the possibility of constitutional amendment under the Abe administration as being a member of the "pro-amendment" camp.

For those who consume information offered by the media, it would appear as though the pro-amendment camp is committed to revising Article 9. As it turns out, however, the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, which is commonly categorized as being in the pro-amendment camp, is cautious about amending Article 9. There also are LDP proponents of keeping Article 9 intact, as well as legislators who believe in changing Article 9 in the DP, which in the latest election was characterized as "anti-amendment."

What this means is that those who captured two-thirds of both houses of the Diet simply do not outright deny the possibility of constitutional amendment; they are not necessarily radical pro-Article-9-amendment lawmakers. It's not that the Japanese people suddenly swung rightward.

***

Since World War II, the Japanese people's views on the Constitution have gone through various changes. Since the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, against a backdrop of globalization and despite many twists and turns, an increasing number of people began to agree that constitutional revision should be carried out if necessary.

In public opinion polls conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, those who as a general concept agreed with constitutional revision reached 65 percent in both 2006 and 2012.

But when the chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force made remarks that made light of the Constitution, and security-related legislation created great controversy, support for constitutional amendment plunged.

According to a survey carried out this spring, 42 percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of constitutional amendment, while another 42 percent said they were against it. Twenty-seven percent said they were in favor of revising Article 9, while 52 percent said they were against it.

Because the public is extremely sensitive to how deliberations on the issue are carried out, the reality is that a forcible revision of Article 9 is impossible.

***

The biggest problem before us is the state of the economy. We haven't been offered any alternatives to Abenomics, but the election results do not indicate that Abenomics won all-encompassing support. Prime Minister Abe has declared that he will accelerate public spending, while the government budget deficit spirals out of control. Abe's bullishness looks like false bravado. There's no time to bask in electoral victory. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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