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Editorial: Parties need common view of what Constitution is before revisions debate

Countries that were once pioneers in the pursuit of values such as freedom, human rights and democracy have gone somewhat astray of late. These countries include France (hit by a deadly terror attack a year ago), Germany (struggling with an influx of refugees), Britain (set to leave the European Union), and the United States (where Republican Donald Trump is facing off with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election).

These countries are struggling because they cannot maintain their ideals in the face of harsh realities brought about by globalization. There is no denying that the widening income gap and the proliferation of populism in Japan also grow out of some of the same issues.

Nov. 3 marks the 70th anniversary of the promulgation of the postwar Constitution. This commemorative day comes amid rapid changes in global trends.

National borders have become less significant barriers in a globalized society where money and goods move freely. At the same time, globalization is stirring heightened nationalism. As a consequence, a growing number of countries are placing excessive priority on their own interests. Emmanuel Todd, a renowned French historian and demographer, attributes these trends to exhaustion from globalization. These trends could weaken internationalism and even influence constitutional debate in Japan.

Moreover, those in favor of constitutional amendment have occupied two-thirds of both houses of the Diet since the July House of Councillors election. Constitutional revisions can be initiated by a concurring vote of at least two-thirds of all members of each chamber of the Diet before being put to a national referendum. New political circumstances, both domestically and overseas, are surrounding the Constitution of Japan.

Each country's constitution is the supreme law that provides for its basic principles and basic rules of governance, and all legislation must abide by that constitution. As such, a constitution describes how a country should be. Each country changes after being influenced by shifting times.

The Constitution of Japan was enacted after Japan underwent a turbulent period that followed defeat in World War II. Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration was the starting point for drafting the Constitution.

The Allied Powers demanded that Japan revise the Meiji Constitution immediately after it occupied Japan. However, since a draft Japan worked out proposed only minor revisions, staffers at the Civil Affairs Section of the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers embarked on drafting a new Constitution in February 1946 on their own.

The Japanese government was hesitant about the move but, at a Cabinet meeting in March 1946, approved an outline based on the Allied Powers' draft document. After a House of Representatives election in April, the draft was submitted to the Imperial Diet. The legislature approved the draft in October the same year after modifying articles 1 and 9. The postwar Constitution was promulgated on Nov. 3, 1946.

With the process of formulating the postwar Constitution in mind, observations persist within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that the Allied Powers forced the current supreme law on Japan. This view is shared by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Moreover, some members of the Japan Conference -- a private rightist organization that supports Abe -- call for the Constitution to be abolished or the Meiji Constitution to be revived, on the grounds that the current Constitution is invalid because it was created under occupation.

There have been reactionary opinions on the Constitution for many years. However, the fact that these opinions are gaining momentum under the Abe administration could be regarded as a reaction to globalization.

What we should look at squarely is the fact that the Constitution has supported postwar Japan over the past 70 years without being revised. The postwar Constitution has been in force longer than the Meiji Constitution, though the current Constitution underwent some twists and turns.

The commissions on the Constitution in both chambers of the Diet are set to resume discussions on the supreme law, which have been suspended since June 2015 due to confusion over security legislation, later this month.

Prime Minister Abe has repeatedly said he has high expectations for the commissions, as constitutional revision is his long-cherished political goal. However, discussions at the commissions could not progress if the prime minister were to view the current Constitution only as an "enemy."

On the other hand, stubborn voices calling only for the protection of the current Constitution are not productive. Viewing the Constitution of Japan as holy writ in an international society where countries are growing interdependent is another form of "Japan first" policy. It is important to objectively view the Constitution while respecting the supreme law.

The Constitution is aimed at ensuring citizens lead a happy life here. It is not a tool for those in power to control the people, nor is it a mere bill of rights.

What is important is to fairly evaluate the historical role that the current Constitution has played so far, and calmly discuss whether the supreme law has any excess or deficiency.

Times have changed over the past seven decades. People's awareness has changed. It would be difficult to inject vitality into the Constitution if those who believe that the Allied Powers imposed it, and those who stubbornly aim to protect it, continued their uncompromising confrontation.

The public should hold in-depth debate on the role of the House of Councillors, for which the election system is repeatedly changed on an ad hoc basis to help ensure equality in the value of votes. It should also consider redefining local autonomy, bearing in mind a serious conflict between the national and Okinawa governments over the burden of U.S. bases in the southernmost prefecture. These are worth discussing as issues related to the Constitution.

Eisuke Mori, an LDP legislator and head of the lower house Commission on the Constitution, said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, "We'll maintain the spirit of holding constitutional debate regardless of whether we belong to ruling or opposition parties." His idea is fully understandable.

Each political party should share a basic view on what the Constitution is before launching full-scale constitutional debate. Extremely left- or right-leaning opinions only hinder such efforts.

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