Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Differences in pro-amendment camp surface as Constitution commission meets

Many members of the public were seen in the gallery watching the deliberations of the House of Councillors' Commission on the Constitution at the Diet in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 16, 2016. (Mainichi)

The Commission on the Constitution of the House of Councillors convened on Nov. 16 for the first time since the July upper house election, in which the pro-constitutional-amendment camp won two-thirds of the seats necessary to propose amendments to the Constitution. While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Initiatives from Osaka party advocated the necessity of revising the Constitution, the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito praised the current Constitution, indicating that views are split even among the two-thirds majority, and reaching a consensus across parties will not be an easy feat.

    At the commission meeting, the LDP called not only for a revision of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, but also for the elimination of merged electoral districts, which were implemented to rectify the differences in vote weights in upper house elections. The LDP's argument for the latter is based on the premise that if upper house lawmakers were to be positioned under the Constitution as prefectural representatives, vote weight disparities would not be subject to criticism from the judicial branch of government. "A system in which lawmakers from our prefectures cannot represent us in the central government is ridiculous," said upper house LDP lawmaker Kojiro Takano from the Kochi electoral district, which was merged with the Tokushima electoral district.

    Meanwhile, Komeito's Makoto Nishida kept his distance from the LDP's views. "It's not right to allow vote weights to differ between the House of Representatives and House of Councillors," he said. Referring to a stipulation in the Constitution which allows for the upper house to hold emergency meetings when the lower house is in a state of dissolution, Nishida stated, "It is appropriate to consider upper house legislators as representatives of all Japanese citizens."

    Following the meeting, Nishida told reporters that the role of the upper house must be put to careful debate. As for the fact that LDP commission member Masaharu Nakagawa argued for a revision of Article 9, Nishida pushed back, saying, "The new security legislation pushed Article 9 to its limits. There's no need to amend it right away."

    If at least two-thirds of lawmakers in the upper and lower houses, respectively, propose a constitutional amendment bill in the Diet, and half of the voters who participate in a national referendum -- which must be held for constitutional revisions -- cast ballots in favor of the bill, the revisions become a reality. Currently, pro-constitutional-amendment camps have two-thirds of the seats in both the upper and lower houses of the Diet, but as is evident from the difference of opinion among LDP and Komeito commission members on Nov. 16, the pro-amendment bloc is not guaranteed to be step in step when it comes to specific articles of the Constitution.

    Initiatives from Osaka legislator Hitoshi Asada proposed constitutional amendments that would make education free and implement reforms to Japan's governing structure. Shigefumi Matsuzawa, a member of the commission and an independent parliamentary faction, pushed for the commission to debate draft Constitutions, lamenting that "we are endlessly presenting our opinions and arguing freely, without answering to the demands of the public." Such arguments serve as support for the LDP, but the LDP cannot completely ignore the views of its coalition partner, Komeito.

    Where is the Democratic Party (DP) in all of this? The party has taken the stand that it will "shape, with the public, a Constitution that aligns with the changes of time and looks to the future." Perhaps because intraparty opinion on the Constitution is diverse within the DP, the four DP lawmakers who spoke at the commission did not touch upon specific items for possible constitutional revision. Instead, DP lawmaker Tetsuro Fukuyama said, "I won't deny the importance of debate, but I cannot help but feel resistant toward the fact that people in power are calling constitutional revision 'lawmakers' responsibility,'" effectively criticizing the policy speech Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made in September.

    For the DP, which has been criticized from Abe for not having an alternative draft Constitution proposal, the fact that pro-amendments factions are not necessarily in agreement with each other is a convenient state of affairs. DP lawmaker and member of the commission, Shinkun Haku, told reporters, "I came away with the impression that there's a great difference in opinion between Komeito and the LDP."

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media