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Abe to stick with plan to submit draft of revised Constitution despite election setback

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun at his office in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on July 3, 2017. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a plan for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to submit its draft of a new Constitution to an extraordinary Diet session in autumn remains unchanged despite the party suffering a major setback in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.

In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun at his office on July 3, Abe reiterated his determination to amend the supreme law to add a clause clearly defining the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). However, there are growing observations within the LDP that constitutional revisions led by the prime minister have become difficult to implement because the party suffered a crushing defeat in the metropolitan assembly race.

Regarding the election results, Prime Minister Abe said, "I take the outcome as a severe scolding toward the LDP and deeply reflect on that."

During campaigning for the election, the LDP came under bitter public criticism for Abe's alleged favoritism over a plan by Kake Educational Institution, run by a close friend of the prime minister, to establish a veterinary school in a national strategic special zone in Ehime Prefecture. Moreover, a campaign speech gaffe by Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and other problems were criticized as highlighting the slackness of the Abe government.

"I have constantly asked myself whether there are problems that could be viewed as showing the government's slackness and arrogance. Unfortunately, however, we were criticized for various matters," he said.

"The LDP must straighten itself out while reflecting on what it's done in an effort to regain public confidence," Abe said. However, he stopped short of mentioning specifically what the party should reflect on.

With regard to taking responsibility for the LDP's loss in the Tokyo assembly election, Prime Minister Abe only said, "I would like to fulfill my responsibility by making achievements" in policy challenges such as the economy and diplomacy.

In a bid to regain public confidence in his administration, the prime minister said his government will work on a revolution in human resource development and economic stimulus measures and submit a bill aimed at reforming the way people work to an extraordinary Diet session in autumn.

To that end, Prime Minister Abe said the government "will proactively appoint diverse human resources to accelerate the implementation of policy measures under a new system."

He then said he would like to promptly begin to consider reshuffling his Cabinet and the LDP's top members.

Abe underscored the need to add a clause providing for the existence of the SDF to the war-renouncing Constitution, while retaining paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 9, which renounce war and ban Japan from possessing any war potential, respectively.

"I've decided that people in our generation must put an end to the debate on whether the SDF is unconstitutional," he said.

The timing of the prime minister dissolving the House of Representatives to call a snap general election will likely emerge as a focal point in national politics as the term of lower house members expires at the end of 2018.

However, he avoided clarifying the timing saying, "I'm not thinking at all" about dissolving the lower house.

There is a possibility that the LDP and other parties in favor of constitutional amendment will lose the two-thirds majority in the lower chamber, a prerequisite for initiating revisions to the supreme law, unless the LDP regains public support.

Therefore, observations are growing within the political world that the prime minister is unlikely to dissolve the lower house until after autumn next year.

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