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Editorial: Don't put the cart before the horse on constitutional amendment

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will aim to ensure that the ruling coalition and some opposition parties in favor of constitutional amendment will secure at least two-thirds of seats in the House of Councillors in a summer election -- enough to propose revisions to the supreme law in the chamber.

    By making the comment, the prime minister himself acknowledged that constitutional revisions will be a key point of contention in the upper house election. However, Abe failed to mention what's the aim of the constitutional revisions he is aspiring to achieve -- a key question.

    Prime Minister Abe should not place priority on securing a sufficient number of legislators necessary to initiate revisions to the Constitution, which is a procedure closely related to the basics of the country, over the contents of revisions.

    Under Article 96 of the Constitution, amendments to the supreme law can be proposed through a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of all members of each house of the Diet and must be approved by a majority of votes in a referendum. Prime Minister Abe told a recent NHK program that "it is extremely difficult for the ruling coalition alone to secure two-thirds" in the upper chamber, and that the governing bloc "wants to join hands with others who have a keen sense of responsibility and who are aiming to revise the Constitution in securing two-thirds."

    The governing bloc comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito already has over two-thirds of seats in the House of Representatives. To secure two-thirds of seats in the upper house, the ruling coalition needs to win 86 seats, although its 59 seats will be contested in the upcoming poll. However, this hurdle would be lowered if the coalition is to join hands with some opposition parties enthusiastic about constitutional revisions. The prime minister apparently expressed his enthusiasm about cooperating with Osaka Ishin no Kai, or Initiatives from Osaka, and others to achieve his long cherished goal of amending the postwar Constitution.

    However, serious questions remain as to such a process. While declaring that the ruling bloc will aim to secure two-thirds of seats in the upper house with some opposition parties, Prime Minister Abe has stopped short of clarifying specifically which clause should be amended and how. "Which clauses should be revised will inevitably be decided as public understanding of constitutional revisions deepens through Diet discussions and national debate," he said.

    The LDP, which calls for constitutional revisions in its platform, drew up a draft of a new Constitution, including changes to war-renouncing Article 9, in 2012. However, the LDP is currently considering placing priority on adding a clause on responses to massive natural disasters to the current Constitution. This is apparently because the party believes it difficult to win support for constitutional amendments in a referendum at the current stage, if the Diet proposes to revise Article 9.

    However, Prime Minister Abe, who leads the LDP, has failed to explain such an idea to the public. As such, the prime minister's move is tantamount to showing the public only the goal of constitutional changes and asking the public to give the coalition and its allies enough seats to propose such revisions. After making his comeback as prime minister in December 2012, Abe sought to propose to revise Article 96 of the Constitution in advance of amending other clauses to make it easier for the Diet to initiate constitutional amendment. However, he abandoned the attempt after the plan was criticized as just like "backdoor admissions" to schools. This attempt and the latest proposal are common in that Abe is aiming to achieve constitutional revisions without clarifying specifically what he aims to change.

    We are not opposing constitutional amendment itself. However, we are of the view that thorough debate should be held on what needs to be revised in a way that the public can understand, instead of just seeking constitutional changes. The prime minister and ruling bloc should not put the cart before the horse by seeking to amend the Constitution before discussing its content.

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