Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his strong desire to see a new Constitution take effect in 2020 and the presence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) specified in its Article 9, in a video message unveiled at a meeting of a group in favor of constitutional amendment in Tokyo on May 3.
It was the first time for Abe -- a strong proponent of constitutional revision -- to mention the target year for enforcing a revised supreme law.
"I strongly desire to make 2020 the year when a new Constitution is put into force," Abe said in the video message, where he spoke in his capacity as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
In regard to war-renouncing Article 9 of the current Constitution, Abe argued for adding a new clause specifying the existence of the SDF while upholding the article's first and second paragraphs that renounce war and ban Japan from maintaining the potential for war, respectively.
"The SDF's existence should firmly be defined in the Constitution," Abe said, adding, "The idea of specifying the SDF while maintaining the first and second paragraphs is worth being put to national debate."
He also suggested making higher education tuition-free by revising the supreme law, saying, "Education is an extremely important subject."
In explaining the reason for setting 2020 as the target year for implementing a new Constitution, Abe said, "We should use the year 2020, when the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held (in Tokyo), as an opportunity for Japan to be reborn anew."
Abe is apparently aiming to stay in power until 2021 by winning the LDP presidential election slated for September next year, and his video message is a de-facto declaration of his resolve to achieve constitutional amendment during his tenure.
"We must start concrete discussions in order to present proposals for constitutional revision to the public," Abe said, urging the Commission on the Constitution at each chamber of the Diet to accelerate debate over the issue. The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), however, has been opposed to constitutional amendment under the Abe administration.
Opposition parties are expected to lash back at the prime minister's unilateral setting of the target year for implementing a revised Constitution, and discussions at the Diet's commissions on the Constitution could hit a deadlock.
Some in Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP, and the DP have rallied behind the idea of adding a new clause to clarify the constitutionality of the SDF while upholding the Constitution's pacifist nature by maintaining the first and second paragraphs of Article 9. By upholding the idea in his video message, Abe apparently aimed to obtain broad consensus on constitutional amendment. In 2012, the LDP drew up its draft revision to the supreme law, which drastically changes Article 9 and calls for introducing a national defense force, but the proposed revision was shelved at the commissions on the Constitution following a fierce backlash from the opposition bloc.
Some members of the commissions on the Constitution from both ruling and opposition parties are skeptical about the idea of starting with Article 9 in revising the supreme law as public opinion is sharply divided over whether to amend the war-renouncing article. It remains unclear whether the prime minister can push through his desire to begin with Article 9 in a drive toward a constitutional overhaul.
As for free higher education, Abe is apparently wooing the Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) for cooperation as the conservative opposition party advocates free education as the pillar of its draft revision to the Constitution.
The first paragraph of Article 9 stipulates: "Aspiring sincerely for international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." The second paragraph states: "In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."