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Editorial: Abe requires humility over plans to revise Japan's Constitution

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized in a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun that he was not considering changing his schedule for constitutional amendment just because his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a humiliating defeat in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. We have to wonder, though, isn't he being all the more stubborn precisely because his party lost in the assembly race?

An apologetic Abe said that his government had been criticized over its slackness and arrogance, and that these things adversely affected the outcome of the assembly election. If he really believes this, then he should change his tactic of disregarding the Diet, pushing through constitutional revisions and forcibly setting a schedule for the amendment process.

Abe announced his goal of having a revised Constitution come into force in 2020 in a video message aired at a rally held by a pro-constitutional amendment group on Constitution Memorial Day on May 3. He made similar comments in an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper published the same day.

In addition, during the campaign period for the assembly election, Abe spoke at a meeting of a group affiliated with the Sankei Shimbun newspaper, which supports constitutional amendment, and announced a plan to present the LDP's draft for a revised Constitution during an extraordinary Diet session scheduled for this fall.

His remarks at the June 24 meeting came as a surprise to the LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision of the Constitution, however, as the group had envisioned the draft being submitted at a regular Diet session next year.

During a meeting of the revision headquarters on July 5, members voiced their opinion that in-depth discussions are needed over the draft. Such views are only natural considering the results of the Tokyo assembly election.

Since the July 2 election, there have been slight changes in Abe's "one-person dominance" in decision-making processes, where the ruling coalition simply follows the prime minister's office.

The LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito worked together with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, instead of the LDP, in the assembly election. While Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi is scrambling to restore his party's coalition partnership with the LDP, he is also trying to keep Abe in check, saying that constitutional amendment is "not the government's issue."

It cannot be denied that Abe's envisioned schedule for constitutional revision comes partly from his own personal agenda of wanting to amend Japan's supreme law while he is in office. Since he announced his plan high-handedly, he is probably concerned about his influence weakening if he changes course.

A House of Representatives election will be held sometime before the end of 2018. There is no guarantee that pro-constitutional amendment forces -- centering on the LDP, Komeito and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) -- will secure a two-thirds majority needed to initiate constitutional revision in the lower house after the election.

But if Abe moves ahead with his plan "at any cost" while the pro-amendment camp holds a two-thirds majority, he will be far from respecting the public's will.

Even if a constitutional amendment draft is initiated at the Diet, a majority vote supporting the amendment in a referendum is needed to actually change the supreme law. Careful dialogue with the people is required on this topic, so discussions to seek consensus between ruling and opposition parties have been held at the commissions on the Constitution in both chambers of the Diet.

What exactly did Prime Minister Abe and his party learn from the Tokyo assembly election? If Abe is insisting that he will be "humble" and "careful," he needs to maintain that stance especially when it comes to discussions over the Constitution.

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