The question is this: Should Japan's Constitution include an article specifying government powers in a major emergency such as a catastrophic natural disaster or war? The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution is talking over five proposals over the issue.
The proposals' content covers a broad range of possibilities, from extending the terms of Diet members, to human rights restrictions and an intense concentration of power in the hands of the central government -- this latter idea echoing the LDP's 2012 draft constitutional amendment proposal.
The Constitution allows the Cabinet to call an emergency House of Councillors meeting if the House of Representatives has been dissolved and therefore cannot respond to a crisis. However, this is about the full extent of emergency powers accorded to the government under the current supreme law.
After the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami laid waste to coastal Tohoku, a special law was enacted to allow for delay in local elections in affected areas. However, Diet lawmakers' terms are inscribed in the Constitution and thus cannot be extended through normal legislative action.
That being the case, the LDP's constitutional revision panel has sought to rally party opinion around the proposal to insert a special provision to extend Diet members' terms in office during a national crisis. However, at a panel meeting in January, there was an eruption of demands that an "ideal LDP proposal" also be drawn up.
Under the LDP's 2012 draft revision, the prime minister would be able to declare a national emergency, at which point the government would have the right to issue decrees with the force of law. The draft stated all citizens would have to obey government orders. All this has a very strong whiff of overt state control about it, and would be unlikely to win support from other parties.
Faced with this hurdle, the LDP's constitutional revision panel fixed its gaze upon the Basic Act on Disaster Control Measures. The idea is to take provisions from this law -- specifically those granting the government the right to control the distribution of everyday necessities and fix prices through Cabinet order in times of disaster -- and put them into the Constitution.
At its meeting on March 7, the panel declared that such measures would only be exercised in "exceptionally large-scale disasters such as major earthquakes." However, some LDP members are saying it should also be applied to other types of crisis, and the panel has been unable to finalize a position.
In the end, the LDP's true desire is to strengthen state power, and is looking for a breakthrough by floating a constitutional revision that essentially confirms the content of an existing law.
The postwar supreme law's central principle is the respect for the Japanese people's human rights, based on a deep reconsideration of the Meiji Constitution, which allowed the military to operate without checks and imposed restrictions on freedom of thought and expression.
Some limits on these rights are possible for the sake of the common good, but any such limits must themselves be restrained to the greatest possible extent. We do not reject outright the debate on a national emergencies clause in the Constitution to protect the lives and property of Japan's citizens. However, just one misstep in its creation would be poison to the Constitution's core principles.
The LDP's constitutional panel wants to produce proposals in time for the party convention on March 25, and has entrusted this effort to panel chairman Hiroyuki Hosoda. However, half-baked discussion set to a strict schedule is no way to treat such a weighty issue.
If there are problems with the Constitution in its current form, and there is no way to deal with these shortcoming through normal laws and ordinances, then and only then should we proceed with debate on constitutional amendment.