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Editorial: Keep constitutional revision debate civil, constructive

The House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution resumed debate on constitutional revisions on Nov. 17 after an interval of one year and five months. The debate had been suspended since three constitutional scholars summoned to the Diet in June last year, based on a recommendation by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), declared that security bills under deliberation at the time were unconstitutional.

The House of Councillors Commission on the Constitution had also resumed discussions on the issue prior to Nov. 17. Following the July upper house election, those in favor of amending the postwar Constitution occupy over two-thirds of seats in both Diet chambers. Constitutional revisions can be initiated if supported by at least two-thirds of all members of both houses.

In a policy speech at the outset of the ongoing extraordinary Diet session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed enthusiasm about amending the supreme law. "It's the responsibility of Diet members to show proposals (for revision of the Constitution) to the public," he said.

In contrast, the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) expressed caution on the grounds that "discussions need to be held on the definition of constitutionalism and the Constitution." There have also been differences on what should be prioritized in discussing constitutional revisions.

At the Nov. 17 meeting of the lower chamber's Commission on the Constitution, governing bloc representative Gen Nakatani said, "We shouldn't narrow down clauses on the assumption that they must be amended. Rather, we should deepen debate from the viewpoint of whether each clause needs to be revised."

Koichi Takemasa of the DP underscored the need for debate based on constitutionalism. "It's necessary to lay the foundation for deepening debate all the more because constitutionalism has been shaken," he told the panel.

Nakatani's remarks reflect his desire to hold debate on the issue in a calm environment without fueling a conflict between ruling and opposition parties. Attendees also confirmed the need to respect constitutionalism.

Neither ruling nor opposition parties apparently object to protecting the three basic principles of the Constitution -- sovereignty of the people, respect for fundamental human rights, and pacifism. If ruling and opposition parties confirm that they have such common ground, it will help prevent extreme arguments.

Opinion persists among LDP legislators, including Prime Minister Abe, that the postwar Constitution should be amended because the Allied Powers forced the supreme law on Japan.

Nakatani told the panel that there are numerous opinions that the Allied Powers' involvement in drafting the postwar Constitution should not be overemphasized, noting that the Constitution reflects the Japanese government's views. However, there is no denying that some within the LDP stick to their argument that Japan should enact a new constitution on its own.

Kazuo Kitagawa, a legislator with the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, has warned the prime minister and others against sticking to their view that Japan should enact an entirely made-in-Japan constitution. "The Constitution has extensively penetrated the public consciousness and is widely supported. There's no longer any point in branding the Constitution as forced on Japan," he said.

Legislators need to hold constitutional debate free from ideological conflict between those seeking to revise the Constitution for revision's sake, and those attempting to protect the Constitution for protection's sake.

An LDP legislator told the upper house panel meeting that the party will "upgrade" its reactionary draft for a new constitution. The remark has called into question the LDP's earlier suggestion that it would shelve its draft. The LDP should stick to its position on the issue.

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