With the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) having focused its campaign for the July 10 House of Councillors election on economic issues, many voters say they weren't aware what securing a two-thirds majority in the upper house meant for parties in favor of revising the pacifist Constitution -- that is, they can initiate constitutional amendment in the chamber, a Mainichi Shimbun poll shows.
"It ended without us (and the voters) being on the same page," said Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), as he spoke to the media amidst a barrage of camera flashes at his party's headquarters in Tokyo's Nagatacho district on the night of July 10. The DP had tried to rally voters around the idea of stopping the ruling coalition and some opposition parties from gaining enough seats to amend the Constitution, while the LDP buried this issue by talking only about the economy. In the end, the LDP came out the clear victor.
Did voters even know about the "two-thirds majority" and its importance for constitutional amendment? On July 10, the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed 150 eligible voters around the country, and 83 of them, or almost 60 percent, said they "didn't know" what the two-thirds majority meant in terms of constitutional revisions. When asked what issue influenced them the most in their vote, most answered things that were closely related to their lives, like economic or social welfare policies. Only about 10 percent said constitutional amendment was the most influential issue for them.
When asked, "Do you know what the number 'two-thirds' means?" a 29-year-old man working in building management who responded to the Mainichi Shimbun poll in front of JR Akabane Station in Kita Ward, Tokyo, responded, "Does that number have something to do with employment?" When the man was told that this was "the number of Diet seats needed for initiating constitutional amendment," he was surprised and said, "Does that mean Article 9 is going to be messed around with? People don't know this, do they?"
Based on a prediction that voter turnout would be about 50 percent, the poll was conducted on 75 people who voted and 75 people who didn't. Among those who voted, 29 people did not know the significance of "two-thirds," and among those who didn't vote 54 did not know. Most people who didn't know and were told the meaning of the number appeared uninterested.
Even among those who knew the significance of securing two-thirds of the vote, many people were more influenced by other issues. A 57-year-old self-employed man in Kagoshima Prefecture said, "As someone operating a tiny business outside of Tokyo, economic policies are most important to me."
On the night of July 10, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not talk about the changes to the Constitution the LDP is looking to bring about. There is no denying that because of the LDP avoiding the topic of the supreme law, debate over constitutional amendment never heated up in the election.
A 21-year-old company employee in Toyama Prefecture explained why she didn't vote. "I didn't know what the main issues of the election were. I thought that it would be better not to vote than to just vote without a good reason."
Due to low voter turnout, those aiming for constitutional amendment have reached their desired two-thirds majority, and a movement to change the country is set to truly begin.
* Interviewees' opinions on constitutional reform
- It is necessary to consider amendment to make the Constitution match with today's world, but don't change the fundamentals of basic human rights and pacifism. (50-year-old female, company employee, Akita Prefecture)
- If necessary it's OK to change the Constitution, but currently we have not yet had a national debate about this, so it's too early. (37-year-old male, company employee, Tokyo)
- I don't want us to do something and then regret it, like the United Kingdom after its referendum result to leave the European Union. I want the issue to be thought over carefully. (47-year-old female, company employee, Tokyo)
- We've been peaceful up until now, so we don't need to change it. (20-year-old male, company employee, Kanagawa Prefecture)
- As long as we have the Self-Defense Forces and they are active, we have to change the Constitution (to clearly allow for those forces). (51-year-old male, company employee, Shiga Prefecture)
- A proposal for constitutional amendment will be a good opportunity for people to think about the Constitution. (65-year-old male, unemployed, Nara Prefecture)
- It's not that I'm for or against amendment, the problem is that the current administration is too forceful in moving policies forward, when there should be in-depth debate. We shouldn't rush to amend the Constitution. (34-year-old male, self-employed, Shimane Prefecture)
- We need to create a sovereign Constitution. We shouldn't depend on another country for our defense. (65-year-old male, taxi driver, Yamaguchi Prefecture)
- I oppose amendment. The current way where we just pay money and are protected by the United States is better. I don't want us to participate in wars. (56-year-old male, company employee, Fukuoka Prefecture)
* Why eligible voters chose not to vote
- I can't trust politicians. (18-year-old female, vocational school student, Tokyo)
- I have my hands full with my everyday life. Increasing my income comes before everything else. (40-year-old male, company employee, Kyoto Prefecture)
- There are no candidates or parties I support. I don't like the ruling parties' forceful methods, but when it comes to the opposition parties, though they talk about joining forces against the ruling parties, they advocate different policies from each other. (29-year-old male, company employee, Hyogo Prefecture)
- I feel powerless against the hard-line stance of the Abe administration. (66-year-old female, unemployed, Hiroshima Prefecture)
- I didn't know what the main election issue was. Maybe it's because my electoral district was merged, but I never once saw the candidates. (43-year-old female, housewife, Kochi Prefecture)
- I don't feel like a House of Councillors election affects my life. (56-year-old male, civil servant, Ehime Prefecture)