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Editorial: Abe needs to act wisely in bid to revise Constitution

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has begun efforts to reshuffle its Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution at the instruction of Prime Minister and LDP President Shinzo Abe.

The LDP's top four officials, including the secretary-general and chairman of the party's General Council, will join the headquarters as board members, and will speed up work to draw up a draft of a new Constitution by the end of this year.

These efforts suggest that the prime minister is aiming to forcibly unify opinions among LDP members on the Constitution even if it means wielding his authority over personnel management within the party.

Key members of the commissions on the Constitution in both houses of the Diet have played a leading role in discussions in the LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution. Among them are Hajime Funada and Gen Nakatani.

Such legislators who specialize in constitutional issues have prioritized cooperation between ruling and opposition parties in accordance with a tradition that has been handed down since the era of the headquarters' predecessor, the Research Commission on the Constitution.

However, Prime Minister Abe overrode intraparty debate to propose that the definition of the SDF be written into Article 9, and that a revised Constitution come into force in 2020. High-ranking members of the headquarters have shown displeasure at the move, with one of them saying, "We should be having in-depth discussions."

Therefore, the ongoing move to reshuffle the headquarters should be seen as an attempt to suppress these legislators specializing in constitutional issues -- who have sought cooperation between ruling and opposition parties -- in the name of party unity.

The move brings to mind the prime minister's replacement of the director general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau when his Cabinet reinterpreted Article 9 to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited way.

Moreover, suppressing LDP legislators specializing in constitution issues represents the LDP's unilateral departure from a policy of cooperation between ruling and opposition parties regarding constitutional revisions.

Prime Minister Abe apparently regards only the LDP's junior ruling coalition partner Komeito, which is seeking to retain the basic framework of the postwar Constitution while adding some clauses to make up for shortcomings, and Nippon Ishin (the Japan Innovation Party) as the LDP's partners in constitutional reform.

The prime minister may think that a golden opportunity to amend the supreme law would go to waste -- since parties who take a positive stance toward constitutional amendment occupy over two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of the Diet -- if the Diet failed to narrow down the provisions in the Constitution that should be amended due to objections from major opposition parties.

The largest opposition Democratic Party, which is divided over the issue, is also at fault. However, it would hinder smooth enforcement of the Constitution if the prime minister were to exclude the main opposition party from full-scale discussions on constitutional revisions from the beginning, especially when Japan has an electoral system featuring single-seat constituencies on the assumption of a two-party system.

Already, legislators close to Prime Minister Abe are suggesting making revisions to Article 9 of the Constitution a key point of contention in next year's LDP presidential election as well as in the next House of Representatives election that must be called by December 2018. In other words, these lawmakers are considering using the issue of constitutional reform for political maneuvering by the prime minister.

If Abe is concerned only with fulfilling his own long-cherished desire to revise the postwar Constitution, a new supreme law will not take root in Japan. We ask that the prime minister show wisdom befitting a political leader who has been at the helm of government over a long period of time.

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