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Editorial: Why is Abe silent about pro-constitutional amendment?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been on a stumping tour across the country prior to the official campaign for the July 10 House of Councillors election. He is visiting mainly constituencies in which only one seat is up for grabs as races in these districts are key to victory in the election.

The prime minister, who leads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), emphasizes that the most important point of contention in the upper chamber race is the economy, saying he will speed up "Abenomics," the policy mix promoted by his government, to the maximum extent. Criticizing the opposition Democratic Party (DP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) for "colluding" in a bid to break the Japan-U.S. alliance, Abe says voters face choices between the LDP-Komeito coalition and the DP-JCP bloc to entrust with Japan's future.

What is strange is that Prime Minister Abe never talks about the Constitution during his speeches. What does the prime minister's silence about constitutional amendment mean as his ultimate political goal is to change the postwar Constitution?

At a news conference at the beginning of this year, Abe said he will underscore the need to revise the Constitution during the campaign for the upper house election. In an NHK program aired shortly afterwards, Abe went on to say, "We'd like to secure two-thirds of seats (in the upper chamber) with responsible people who are considering revising the Constitution."

Under Article 96 of the Constitution, constitutional amendments can be proposed by the Diet through a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of members of each chamber. As such, the prime minister declared that the ruling bloc will aim to secure a huge majority in the upper chamber with other political forces in favor of constitutional amendment. In March, Abe said he wants to achieve constitutional revision while he is in office.

Abe's tenure as president of the LDP ends in September 2018. Therefore, the upcoming election is the last chance to secure two-thirds of seats in the upper chamber unless his tenure is extended as an exceptional case. The governing coalition already has two-thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives. The fact that the government set a Diet schedule that enables the prime minister to call a double election of both chambers was widely viewed as indicative of his determination to achieve constitutional amendment while he is in office.

It would be only natural that he keeps silent about the issue if he came to the conclusion that the time is not ripe for rewriting the postwar Constitution. A Constitution, which sets the framework for the country, needs wide support from the public.

However, it is hardly believable that the prime minister has actually shelved constitutional amendment. "A breakaway from the postwar regime," which Abe has frequently called for, is widely interpreted as referring to revisions to the Constitution that he believes the postwar occupation forced on Japan.

Prime Minister Abe's avoidance of mentioning constitutional amendment in his street speeches is nothing but an election tactic. A senior member of the LDP says, "We can't garner votes if we call for constitutional revisions."

The LDP's list of campaign pledges for the upper house race places emphasis on achieving an "economic virtuous cycle." Regarding the Constitution, the list only says toward the end, "We'll cooperate with other political parties and try to form a consensus among the public for constitutional amendment." It never mentions specifically which clauses should be changed and how.

The LDP often places emphasis on economic policy in a bid to garner support from voters and if it wins an election, the party then takes advantage of the victory to implement Abe's conservative policy measures. Abe employed this tactic to have the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets and the security-related legislation enacted.

If the prime minister were to aim to use a similar tactic to revise the Constitution, it would be tantamount to ridiculing the public. A political leader should openly and squarely call for constitutional amendment without resorting to any tricky moves.

The Constitution contains important rules that are shared by the public and the government. If constant discussions on the Constitution are held among members of the public, it would be proof that Japan is a sound society.

However, it is now difficult to have calm discussions on the Constitution in Japan largely because the LDP has a draft of a revised Constitution that goes against the times.

The draft, which the LDP worked out in 2012 when it was an opposition party, glorifies Japan's tradition in its preamble and calls for recognizing the Emperor as the head of state, transforming the Self-Defense Forces into the national defense military and giving the state special powers to respond to emergency situations. Moreover, the LDP's draft contains a number of clauses that restrict people's rights in order to place priority on public interest and public order.

There is a wide diversity of people in any country. The Constitution is a set of rules aimed at ensuring diverse people and groups coexist in a limited space. Nevertheless, the LDP's draft appears to cast such diverse people into a single mold.

A Constitution draft that the LDP drew up in 2005 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its founding -- when then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was in office -- was more moderate. It never glorified Japan's traditions in its preamble and did not regard the Emperor as head of state, and called for transforming the SDF into a "self-defense military."

As a counteraction to the LDP drifting to the right wing, the now-defunct largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) tilted to the left. The DP, which has taken over the DPJ, is an extension of the left-leaning DPJ.

One of the DP's campaign posters for the upper house race says, "Block (pro-constitutional revision forces from securing) two-thirds (of seats)." However, this does not clearly show the DP's vision for the Constitution.

If the LDP sticks to its ideological calls for enacting Japan's own Constitution and the largest opposition party places priority on blocking constitutional amendment, debate on the Constitution will lose substance.

The issue of whether pro-amendment forces will garner two-thirds of seats in the upper house is certainly important. However, even such an overwhelming majority would be meaningless unless those who form a majority have clear ideas on the Constitution.

The ruling and opposition parties should lay sound foundations for debate on the Constitution. Needless to say, the LDP has the heaviest responsibility for such discussions.

No political party or individual politician should deal with the Constitution based on their self-righteous ideologies. It would be outrageous if the prime minister were to attempt to garner votes in the upper house election while concealing his attempt to change the Constitution. The prime minister should keep consistency in his assertions on his policy goals before and after the upcoming election.

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