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PM Abe denies making constitutional amendment key issue in upcoming election

Party leaders gather for an online debate in Tokyo's Minato Ward on June 19, 2016. From left: Hiroyuki Arai of the New Renaissance Party, Ichiro Ozawa of the People's Life Party, Ichiro Matsui of the Initiatives from Osaka, Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party, Katsuya Okada of the Democratic Party, Kazuo Shii of the Japanese Communist Party, Tadatomo Yoshida of the Social Democratic Party and Kyoko Nakayama of the Party for Japanese Kokoro. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized during an online party leader debate on June 19 that constitutional amendment should not be the key issue in the upcoming House of Councillors election, despite his earlier remarks that he is aiming to have the pro-constitutional reform camp secure a two-thirds majority in both houses to call for a referendum.

Prime Minister Abe pointed out in the debate between leaders of nine parties that at this point it has not been decided in the Commissions on the Constitution set up in both houses of the Diet which articles in Japan's supreme law should be revised and said, "We cannot debate on the matter in this (upper house) election since it hasn't been decided which articles are subject to change. And it does not necessarily have to be a key issue," emphasizing that constitutional amendment will be decided in a referendum.

He also said he hopes to advance discussion on which articles to revise after seeing the results of the July 10 upper house election and encourage debate in the Commissions on the Constitution from the next extraordinary Diet session to be convened in the fall.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's junior coalition partner Komeito, kept pace with Abe, saying, "We will make efforts to build a consensus by holding debate (over constitutional amendments) within a Diet framework. The topic will not be a key point of contention for this election because there has not been mature discussion on the matter."

Meanwhile, opposition leaders such as Katsuya Okada of the Democratic Party and Kazuo Shii of the Japanese Communist Party claimed that constitutional amendment should be the key issue for the upcoming election, pointing out that the prime minister has advocated securing a two-thirds majority in both houses necessary for proposing a referendum along with the pro-amendment force.

In addition, Okada slammed Prime Minister Abe's decision to postpone the consumption tax hike again from the current 8 percent to 10 percent, saying, "The prime minister had said in Diet sessions dozens of times that he would raise the sales tax (on schedule) unless the economy faces a situation like the 'Lehman Shock' (the 2008 global financial crisis)," adding that delaying the scheduled tax hike is "a grave violation of the policy pledge."

Abe argued in response, "The decision to postpone the tax hike is a 'renewed promise' I made before the upper house race, and I will seek the people's judgment through the election."

In addition to Abe, Okada and Shii, the June 19 online debate was joined by Social Democratic Party leader Tadatomo Yoshida, People's Life Party head Ichiro Ozawa, Initiatives from Osaka leader Ichiro Matsui, Kyoko Nakayama of the Party for Japanese Kokoro and New Renaissance Party leader Hiroyuki Arai. It was the first debate between party leaders since the last Diet session closed on June 1.

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