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Constitutional amendment certain to be point of contention in summer upper house race

Constitutional amendment is certain to emerge as a key point of contention during the summer House of Councillors election, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having declared that he will seek revisions to the supreme law while he remains in office.

    Prime Minister Abe will aim to secure two-thirds of seats in the chamber -- one of the prerequisites for constitutional amendment -- with opposition parties that are in favor of such revisions. Meanwhile, he is additionally considering calling a simultaneous election in the House of Representatives, where the ruling coalition currently has a majority.

    The prime minister has failed to specifically mention which clauses in the supreme law should be changed, however.

    When asked about the "national defense military" incorporated within a draft of a new Constitution worked out by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) during a upper house Budget Committee session on March 2, Prime Minister Abe said, "I'm standing here as prime minister (and not as the LDP leader). I'd like to refrain from explaining the draft."

    "I hope that the commissions on the Constitution (of both houses) will reach consensus on which clauses should be revised first," he told a lower house Budget Committee meeting on March 1.

    The summer election will be the last upper house election for Abe, whose second three-year term as president of the LDP ends in September 2018. Under LDP rules, he cannot be re-elected to a third term.

    In order to make sure that those in favor of constitutional revisions will secure enough seats in both houses, the prime minister is also considering dissolving the lower house for a snap general election to coincide with the upper house race.

    "The prime minister will dissolve the lower house if it is certain that the ruling coalition can increase its strength in the upper chamber," a senior LDP official commented.

    At the commissions on the Constitution in both houses, political parties have expressed their opinions regarding which clauses should be amended.

    The LDP is considering setting up a consultative body on constitutional revisions comprised solely of political parties in favor of such amendments. In order to take the initiative in discussions during the commissions on the Constitution, the governing party intends to narrow down clauses over which two-thirds among the members of both houses can agree to revise and draft new clauses.

    The LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito is hesitant, however, to revise the Constitution.

    Noritoshi Ishida, chairman of the party's Policy Research Council, warned Abe against amending the supreme law in haste.

    "The phrase 'while I'm in office,' appeared to come all of a sudden," Ishida said during a news conference on March 2.

    "The prime minister still has 2 1/2 years (before his term ends)," Ishida added. "I wonder whether constitutional amendments are realistic."

    While Komeito kept pace with the LDP last year in enacting the security-related legislation, the party struggled to convince its supporters of its stance toward the laws. As such, the party wants to prevent constitutional revisions from becoming a point of contention during the upper house election.

    Since constitutional amendments are the prime minister's cherished wish, however, a senior Komeito legislator commented, "We're not opposed to holding in-depth debate in the Diet on the issue after the upper chamber race."

    On the other hand, another senior Komeito lawmaker insists that constitutional amendments should be carried out through broad consensus among political parties, including the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

    Prime Minister Abe appears to be stopping short of going into the specifics of the constitutional revisions partly out of consideration toward Komeito members who are prudent about such amendments.

    Meanwhile, the DPJ and many other opposition parties are stiffening their opposition to prime minister-led discussion on the constitutional amendments.

    DPJ secretary-general Yukio Edano noted, "It's illogical to say, 'I want to change the Constitution' without specifically mentioning which clauses he wants to change."

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