Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent remarks to the effect that he aims for revisions to the Constitution, including its war-renouncing Article 9, to come into effect in 2020 have created ripples within the ruling coalition as well as among opposition parties.
Some legislators with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have pointed out that the prime minister's remarks are inconsistent with intraparty discussions on the matter and have also puzzled its junior coalition partner Komeito. At the same time, the move is apparently aimed at causing a crack within the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), which is divided over constitutional revisions.
At an LDP executive meeting on May 8, Abe, who heads the party, expressed his enthusiasm again about amending the supreme law.
Abe told the gathering that making constitutional revisions come true "has been the party's fundamental policy since its founding," and added that it is "the long-cherished desire for the party's successive presidents as well as its members."
However, some party members have raised questions about Abe's idea. The prime minister has proposed to add a third paragraph providing for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Article 9 while retaining its war renouncing paragraph 1 and paragraph 2 which bans Japan from maintaining any potential for war.
The LDP's 2012 draft of a revised constitution deleted the ban on Japan's possession of any war potential, while providing for the creation of a "national defense military."
Some critics within the LDP therefore take Abe's proposal as an abrupt one that is not based on intraparty discussions on the issue.
Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba pointed out in a Fuji TV program on May 3 that Abe's proposal to retain the ban on war potential while adding a third paragraph providing for the SDF would "only maintain the contradiction."
Meanwhile, former House of Representatives Speaker Bunmei Ibuki said in a BS Fuji television program, "The prime minister should've told the party about his proposal in advance since the party is an organization. It's rather disappointing."
In his email newsletter on May 8, Hajime Funada, deputy head of the LDP's constitutional revision promotion headquarters, pointed out that remarks by Abe "could lead to the head of the executive branch controlling the outcome and period of discussions at the Diet." He added, "It will certainly stir protests from opposition parties. The prime minister should've been more careful."
Komeito apparently wants to postpone debate on revisions to war-renouncing Article 9. The junior governing coalition partner has had a rocky relationship with Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai, the party's power base, over the controversial security legislation that has opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, as Soka Gakkai attaches particular importance to peace policies.
However, Komeito has adopted a policy of maintaining the basic framework of the Constitution and adding clauses to make up for the shortcomings of the supreme law. As part of its policy, the party has discussed adding a clause defining the SDF to the Constitution.
A high-ranking member of Komeito said the prime minister "made a suggestion that we can't flatly reject."
Prime Minister Abe's proposal is aimed partly at causing a crack in the DP, which is pursuing a united front among opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, in the next House of Representatives election to be called by December 2018.
If the DP is to prioritize election cooperation between opposition parties, it would be forced to clarify its opposition to constitutional revisions, which could trigger a backlash from those within the party favoring constitutional amendments. In other words, full-scale intraparty debate on the issue could lead directly to chaos within the DP.
The DP's former deputy president Goshi Hosono expressed his appreciation of Abe's remarks on constitutional revisions to a certain extent, stating in his blog on May 4 that the prime minister's stance "is more flexible than his previous approach."
DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda told a news conference on May 8 that the time is not ripe for the party to respond to the prime minister's proposal.
Noda admitted that "there are various opinions within the party" regarding Article 9, and said "we're not at the stage of squarely responding" to Abe's suggestion.
In a lower house Budget Committee session on May 8, the DP's Akira Nagatsuma devoted much of the time allocated to him to ask the prime minister about his true intentions behind his proposals instead of clarifying the party's stance toward the issue.
"The proposal to seek enactment of a new constitution by 2020 was abrupt," Nagatsuma said. "Even key members of the commissions on the Constitution (in both chambers of the Diet) representing the LDP said they're puzzled."
In the meantime, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who heads the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), expressed understanding for the prime minister's proposal.
"It's the lower and upper houses' mission to initiate constitutional revisions while both chambers have two-thirds of seats (who are in favor of amendments to the supreme law)," Matsui said. Constitutional revisions can be initiated by the Diet through a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of all seats in each chamber before holding a referendum.
Matsui's response was apparently aimed at showing support for Prime Minister Abe as he has responded favorably to Nippon Ishin's proposal to make education tuition-free as the core of constitutional revisions.
Abe's call for constitutional revisions therefore is apparently aimed at wooing Nippon Ishin while keeping the hesitant Komeito in check.