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Conservative group behind pro-constitutional amendment petition collecting

The conservative activist organization Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) is behind a pro-constitutional amendment group's campaign for 10 million signatures to call for changes in Japan's pacifist Constitution.

Nippon Kaigi was founded in 1997 when "Nippon o Mamoru Kai" (conference for the protection of Japan) centering on religious groups and "Nippon o Mamoru Kokumin Kaigi" (citizens' conference for the protection of Japan), whose members included business leaders, politicians and intellectuals, joined hands. The current organization has a membership of some 38,000 across the country, and 300 multi-partisan lawmakers are members of the group's legislators panel.

"This is not just petition signing. It is a roster for a referendum dogfight," a Nippon Kaigi secretariat official from Tokyo told a branch meeting in the city of Nagano in September last year with many participants from shrines in Nagano Prefecture, explaining the aim of the signature drive. The goal is set at 10 million signatures.

An amendment to the Constitution can be proposed to the Diet with a two-thirds majority in both houses and the bill will then be voted in a national referendum. The pro-constitutional amendment group -- called the "Utsukushii Nippon no Kenpo o tsukuru kokumin no kai" (citizens' group for creating the Constitution for beautiful Japan) -- estimates the number of valid votes to be 60 million, and in its calculation, if each of the 10 million signatories has two other people vote in favor of constitutional revision, the number of pro-constitutional amendment votes will reach 30 million, a majority needed to make changes in the Constitution.

The pro-constitutional amendment organization had not clarified envisioned changes in the Constitution until an event held on May 3, Japan's Constitution Memorial Day. The group decided that the establishment of an "emergency clause" that will allow the suspension of the constitutional system -- including the guarantee of human rights and separation of powers -- in times of major disasters and emergency situations will be the key issue.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a video message to the May 3 event, saying, "Let's join hands to make constitutional amendment happen."

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