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LDP avoids touching on constitutional amendment ahead of election

A video message from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen at a pro-constitutional amendment group's Constitution Memorial Day meeting on May 3, 2016. (Mainichi)

An audience of about 1,100 at a recent rally of those calling for constitutional revisions was deeply impressed with a speech by actress-turned legislator Junko Mihara.

"It's been 2,676 years since Emperor Jimmu's enthronement. Successive Emperors have prayed for peace for the country and peace of mind for the people," Mihara, 51, told the rally at Kannai Hall in Naka Ward, Yokohama. The way she spoke reminded me of a scene from a play.

Mihara, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of the House of Councillors, was present at the rally as a representative of the LDP's Kanagawa prefectural chapter. Based on the view that the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers forced the postwar Constitution on Japan, Mihara said, "The Constitution is a bastion for Japan that shows its national character. It's an important task for us Japanese to have our own Constitution."

Mihara has been elected through the proportional representation system, but is seeking re-election in the July 10 upper house election from the Kanagawa prefectural constituency.

Dressed in a red polo shirt, a smiling Mihara was shaking hands with passers-by in front of Hiyoshi Station of the Tokyu Railway in Kohoku Ward, Yokohama, at around 3 p.m. on May 28.

"Do you know (the TV drama) 'Sannenn B-gumi Kinpachi Sensei?'" Mihara asked passers-by as she spoke to them. She appeared in the popular TV series, in which she played a delinquent girl who clashed with her homeroom teacher called Kinpachi.

By mentioning her role in that drama, Mihara underscored that she has put her efforts into improving social welfare and support for child care. During her 30-minute campaign in Yokohama, however, she made no mention of constitutional revisions.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is enthusiastic about constitutional revisions while he is in office. The LDP and other political parties in favor of constitutional amendment have more than two-thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives. If these forces are to secure two-thirds in the upper house, constitutional revisions could be put on the agenda.

When asked about why she did not mention constitutional revisions after her activities on a street in Yokohama, Mihara said, "I have no intention of addressing constitutional amendment. There are many other issues I should mention during my campaign."

At a news conference on June 1, Prime Minister Abe said, "The most important point of contention is whether to speed up 'Abenomics' (the economic policy mix promoted by the Abe government) or allow it to backslide."

A source close to the LDP admitted that "if we call for constitutional revisions, we'll lose votes."

"Constitutional amendment is part of the LDP's platform. Although we're not hiding the issue, it's better we keep silent about it now. If we secure two-thirds in the upper house, we'll start to move toward constitutional revisions. That's how the political world works," the source said.

The upper house race has effectively started while constitutional amendment -- a crucial issue that is closely related to the foundations of the country -- is kept obscure. However, those in favor of changing the Constitution have taken time to prepare for revisions to the supreme law in anticipation that the pro-amendment camp may secure two-thirds of the seats in the upper chamber.

As part of these moves, LDP and other members of the Ishikawa Prefectural Assembly calling for constitutional revisions submitted a statement to the council in February 2014 urging the Diet to amend the supreme law at an early date.

One opposition party member of the assembly was puzzled by the move, wondering about the intensions of those who submitted the document to a local assembly when the issue of constitutional amendment involves the Diet and a national referendum.

The report begins with the phrase, "The Constitution of Japan has not been revised for about 70 years since it came into force on May 3, 1947." It then calls for "a Constitution that meets the needs of the times." However, the report does not mention specifically how the supreme law should be changed. The ruling bloc approved the document on Feb. 21, 2014, although opposition parties voted against it.

The following month, seven prefectural assemblies, including those in Kagawa and Ehime, approved similar opinions or recommendations. Those adopted by the Chiba and Kagoshima assemblies begin with exactly the same phrase as that in Ishikawa.

The aforementioned opposition party member of the Ishikawa Prefectural Assembly sensed that someone was pulling the strings behind these moves.

There was a sample form for these statements and recommendations. Isao Nakamura, 74, a member of the Ishikawa Prefectural Assembly, revealed that "the Nippon Kaigi," or Japan Conference, a conservative organization working towards constitutional amendment, drew up the sample form.

On Nov. 13, 2013, Japan Conference held a meeting of about 800 deputies in Tokyo.

"A chance to revise the Constitution will become remote unless it's achieved under the Abe administration," one of the attendees said. At the meeting, it was proposed that the conference would urge local assemblies to launch a campaign for constitutional amendment.

Inspired by the move, Nakamura drafted a statement based on the sample proposed by Japan Conference.

Nakamura was introduced to Japan Conference by a figure related to a Shinto shrine about 10 years ago. Nakamura was impressed with the organization's assertions that "the current Constitution was forced on Japan" and the Constitution should be revised to create "a proud country."

The assembly member had previously been hesitant to mention the Imperial Household and constitutional revisions because he feared that his supporters would say he was like a right-wing activist.

However, he became confident of the need to revise the Constitution after interacting with like-minded people at Japan Conference. He now takes pride in being a "genuine conservative."

Not all conservative local assembly members share the view with Nakamura. A junior LDP member of the Ishikawa Prefectural Assembly, who believes it necessary to revise the Constitution, says, "Japan Conference is extremely right-leaning and I sense xenophobia attached to the organization."

Despite such prudent opinions, Nakamura and others moved to adopt the opinion. Japan Conference lobbied the LDP's prefectural chapters to work to adopt a report in favor of constitutional amendment. Furthermore, the LDP headquarters urged its local chapters to work on such reports at prefectural assemblies.

These statements are not legally binding. However, if many assemblies adopted such resolutions, it would form "public opinion."

In the 1970s, the predecessor of Japan Conference launched a campaign to urge the Diet to enact legislation to officially recognize the name of an era based on the reign of an Emperor. Forty-six of the nation's 47 prefectural assemblies adopted a resolution calling for the enactment of the law.

Sakonshiro Inamura, who was a member of the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda in charge of the issue, said, "The fact that many local assemblies are calling for such legislation means that many members of the public who voted for lawmakers of the assemblies support the move." Despite stiff opposition from critics, the law was enacted in 1979.

Yasuo Ohara, professor emeritus at Kokugakuin University who serves as policy chief at Japan Conference, delivered a speech at the auditorium of the Nagano branch of the Association of Shinto Shrines, calling for revising clauses in the Constitution for which the public can easily reach consensus.

"Constitutional amendment should begin with the environmental rights and emergency response clauses, among other issues, on which the people can reach consensus relatively easily," Ohara said. "Once the Constitution is changed even partially, the public would no longer view constitutional amendment as a taboo, and revisions to its preamble and Article 9 (that renounces war) would come in sight."

In other words, advocates of constitutional revision do not clarify how the Constitution should be amended in order to widely attract people's attention to the issue.

"Utsukushii Nippon-no Kenpo o Tsukuru Kokumin-no Kai" (the people's association to create beautiful Japan's Constitution), supported by Japan Conference, is staging a signature-collecting campaign for constitutional revision. The group is aiming to obtain signatures from 10 million people. Chief priests of local shrines and organizations of parishioners are cooperating in the campaign.

All these movements are aimed at a possible proposal by the Diet to revise the Constitution and a referendum following the upper house election.

On Constitution Memorial Day on May 3 this year, the association held a meeting in Sabo Kaikan hall in Tokyo's Hirakawacho district. At the meeting, it was reported that 33 prefectural assemblies adopted opinions and recommendations calling for constitutional revisions and nationwide debate on the matter and that signatures of 7,002,501 people supporting the move have been collected.

"I feel encouraged by your efforts. Let's work hard toward constitutional amendment," Prime Minister Abe said in a video message shown at the meeting. Abe is a special adviser to Japan Conference's council of legislators. (By Keigo Kawasaki, City News Department)

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