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Editorial: Start debate on constitutional amendment from scratch

The ruling bloc comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito increased their strength in the House of Councillors as a result of the July 10 election, while the Democratic Party and most other opposition parties made a poor showing.

The LDP led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has won four consecutive Diet elections: the 2012 House of Representatives poll, the 2013 upper house race and the 2014 lower house election and the July 10 poll.

Moreover, the July 10 upper house election could be a turning point in the history of Japan's postwar politics because the ruling coalition and other pro-constitutional-revision forces, including the Initiatives from Osaka party, secured more than two-thirds of upper house seats, including uncontested seats.

Political parties in the pro-constitutional-amendment camp already have over two-thirds of the seats in the lower chamber. Depending on political developments, there is a possibility that the Diet will propose constitutional revisions. Under Article 96 of the Constitution, revisions to the supreme law can be initiated by the Diet through a concurring vote of two-thirds of seats in each chamber of the Diet and must be approved by a simple majority in a referendum.

Prime Minister Abe made almost no mention of constitutional revisions during the campaign for the July 10 election. However, this is someone who has repeatedly criticized the postwar Constitution, saying that it was forced on Japan by the Allied Forces. It's hard to imagine that his zeal toward amending the Constitution has changed.

The prime minister has expressed his intention to convene both chambers' Commissions on the Constitution after an extraordinary Diet session opens this coming autumn. The panels are expected to begin debating which clauses should be changed.

The Constitution is the most important agreement shared by the entire public. As such, it is only natural for the supreme law to be subject to scrutiny.

However, the Commissions on the Constitution should be convened on the condition that a draft Constitution that the LDP drew up in 2012 when it was an opposition party is scrapped.

The LDP's draft excessively glorifies Japan's traditions in its preamble and contains clauses defining the Emperor as the head of state, calling for transformation of the Self-Defense Forces into full-fledged armed forces and allowing the government great authority in emergency situations. Moreover, it aims to restrict people's rights under the pretext of protecting public interest and public order. The LDP's draft runs counter to modern democracy.

Opposition parties are wary of Prime Minister Abe's attempt to amend the Constitution largely because of the LDP's draft. In other words, the LDP draft will continue to hinder levelheaded discussions on constitutional revisions among ruling and opposition parties as long as the LDP continues to maintain the goal of enacting its draft. It is the LDP's duty as the governing party to create an environment for calm debate on the Constitution.

Although political parties in favor of constitutional amendment have secured two-thirds of seats in both chambers of the Diet, they are sharply divided over which clauses should be amended and how. At the current stage, it is impossible to reach a consensus on specific revisions.

The prime minister has repeatedly said that a referendum will determine the clauses that should be revised. It's true that constitutional revisions must be approved by a majority of votes in a referendum. However, such a referendum should be regarded as the final confirmation stage of constitutional amendment. A new Constitution would never fully put down roots in Japanese society if a referendum were to split the Japanese public, just as the one on "Brexit" did to the British public. At the very least, such an amendment should be supported by both the governing bloc and the largest opposition party.

The LDP came close to securing a one-party majority in the upper house. This is of great significance for the LDP because it has failed to take the majority in the upper chamber since the 1989 upper house election. Komeito's responsibility of putting the brakes on the LDP as its coalition partner has become even greater than before.

Japan faces serious challenges, both in domestic and foreign policies. And the Abe government has established its power base to a magnitude not seen in recent years thanks to the upper house race. The administration should take advantage of its power to implement mid- and long-term reforms.

First and foremost, the government must revive the framework for integrated reform of the tax and social security systems, which is on the verge of collapse because of the decision to postpone the consumption tax increase from 8 percent to 10 percent, which had been scheduled for April 2017, by 2 1/2 years.

By 2025, all baby-boomers will have become at least 75 years old, leading to a surge in social security expenses. The government's finances already face a crisis. The government has the responsibility to work out a realistic plan for social security services and ask the public to share the necessary burden while it is under a stable administration.

Another important point is Japan's response to the rapidly changing international situation.

Last fall, the Abe government took advantage of the ruling coalition's majority to railroad security-related legislation through the Diet, which expanded the scope of assistance that the Self-Defense Forces can extend to the United States in response to China's military rise. However, U.S. policy on East Asia, on which the legislation was based, could change drastically depending on the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Along with economic globalization, unilateralism is growing more prevalent worldwide, as seen in Europe.

Japan should work out bold diplomatic and security policies based on its principle of pacifism with a view to the international situation 10 to 20 years into the future. The Abe administration's capacity to creatively address diplomatic and security challenges, including measures to reduce the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa Prefecture, will be tested.

The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) should take the outcome of the election seriously. The DP joined hands with other opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), in fielding joint candidates in all 32 constituencies nationwide in which only one seat was contested. The electoral cooperation was effective to a certain extent, but did not go as far as to threaten the ruling bloc.

Opposition parties raised the expanding income gap among other matters as points of contention during the election campaign, but failed to sufficiently draw the differences between themselves and the ruling bloc. Debates failed to excite the public, and as voter turnout indicated, opposition parties' campaigns did not heighten voter interest in the upper house race. Therefore, the ruling coalition, which has a more solidly organized support base, overwhelmed the opposition camp as it has in many previous Diet elections.

The DP and other opposition parties must make efforts to regain the public's confidence in them as political parties with the capability to take over the reins of government.

The voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 prior to the upper house race and quite a few high schools across the country provided various education programs on being sovereign members of society, including the holding of mock voting exercises. Japanese society as a whole should patiently work to cultivate young people's interest in politics without expecting immediate results.

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