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Ruling coalition member Komeito trying to slow Abe bid for constitutional change

In this July 20, 2018 file photo, Komeito party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the National Diet in Tokyo. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition headed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is trying to hit the brakes on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's attempt to revise the Constitution. The prime minister is bent on pursuing the ambitious goal following his recent win in the LDP presidential race, clinching his third term as party chief.

Behind Komeito's move is Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist organization serving as its support base. The religious group is strongly opposed to Abe's plan of revising the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9. The political party, which prides itself as being a party for peace, wants to avoid any discussion of the issue until the House of Councillors elections set for next summer. The tug of war with the LDP is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

"We don't expect constitutional revisions to be submitted (to the Diet) based solely on discussions between Komeito (and the LDP)," said party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi during a Fuji Television Network Inc. satellite program on Sept. 21. The remark was an indication that Komeito is against discussing changing the supreme law even with the LDP.

Yamaguchi's comment comes on the heels of Abe's announcement on Sept. 20 at a press conference following his victory in the LDP leadership election. "I want to coordinate with our partner Komeito toward submitting a draft revision (of the Constitution) to the Diet," Abe had announced.

Even on the campaign trail, Abe repeatedly stated that he is aiming to submit an LDP draft to the extraordinary session of the Diet set to be called in late October. This suggests that he hopes for preliminary talks on the subject with his party's coalition partner to take place from fall to winter of this year.

The prime minister's revision plan is to retain the two existing paragraphs of Article 9, which renounce war as a means to solve international conflicts and bans Japan from maintaining any war potential, such as air, sea and land forces, and adding text clarifying the existence of the country's Self-Defense Forces. Abe implied that his plan would likely gain the approval of Komeito, and added that he holds the responsibility of drafting revisions that are acceptable in the ruling camp as the leader of the LDP.

Prime Minister Abe wants to finalize the draft in discussions with Komeito and present it to the Diet with the support of other parties on board with changing the supreme law, such as the Japan Innovation Party.

Since the start of the second Abe administration in 2012, Komeito has been forced to accept controversial bills promoted by the LDP despite strong opposition from within the party and from Soka Gakkai members. The junior coalition partner even accepted a batch of new security laws that enable the Self-Defense Forces to go beyond its postwar framework of individual self-defense and carry out operations based on collective self-defense -- such as joint operations with foreign militaries. Komeito supporters criticized the party leadership, saying they were dumping their peace-seeking platform.

An individual close to the party said that this time, however, "things are different." Agreeing to discuss constitutional revisions with the LDP would trigger a barrage of criticism from supporters and members of the public opposed to revising Article 9, which could cause damage to Komeito during nationwide local elections next spring and the upper house race next summer, the individual explained.

The party lost seats in the House of Representatives race in autumn 2017, and questions emerged as to the direction in which the party should head. A senior Komeito official said, "We want Mr. Yamaguchi to push back against the LDP's proposal for constitutional revision talks."

(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

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