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LDP panel decides on Article 9 revision proposal amid predictions of resistance

Hiroyuki Hosoda, chairperson of the Liberal Democratic Party Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, speaks at a meeting of the task force on March 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

Veteran Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of the ruling party's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, received the green light from the headquarters to move forward with a proposal to revise Article 9 of Japan's supreme law on March 22, amid predictions of resistance from outside the party.

According to the proposal, approved by a majority of the headquarters, the revision would add a clause to Article 9 stating that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) will be maintained for Japan to take "necessary self-defense measures," while leaving the second paragraph of the article intact. The second paragraph states that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."

"We have discussed the matter for at least 10 hours, and heard the views of a total of 160 people," Hosoda said at the beginning of a general meeting of the LDP constitutional reform headquarters March 22. "I ask that you allow us to reach a conclusion."

At a general constitutional reform headquarters meeting a week prior, the proposal to stipulate the SDF as "an armed organization with minimum required strength" prompted protests from some members of the headquarters, who argued that such a move would develop into a debate on interpretations of the scope of the SDF's "minimum required strength."

Senior members of the constitutional reform task force subsequently judged that incorporating "necessary self-defense" into the amendment proposal would help win over LDP lawmakers who supported retaining the second paragraph of Article 9 while explicitly inserting a reference to the right to self-defense into the Constitution.

The senior officials' prediction proved accurate, with many of the task force's members who had called for an explicit reference to the right to self-defense in the Constitution, such as House of Councillors lawmaker Hiroshi Yamada, agreeing to the latest proposal. "The party convention is right around the corner. We should bring our discussions to a close here, and start talks with other parties," Yamada said.

However, such changes to the wording of the proposed new clause will undoubtedly lead to intense debate in the commissions on the Constitution at the Diet's upper and lower houses about the expansion of the SDF's authority and mission, and are likely to make it even more difficult to obtain the consent of the LDP's ruling coalition partner Komeito and other parties.

Former LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba, who has advocated for the erasure of Article 9's second paragraph, opposed Hosoda's proposal by pointing out that it would "preserve the logic that the SDF is not war potential." But his dissent was a minority opinion; most agreed with the reform headquarters' chief.

Meanwhile, Shoji Nishida, an upper house lawmaker who is close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also expressed concern over the proposal, referring to the current state of affairs in the Diet. "The political situation is unstable, with the Moritomo Gakuen issue emerging to the forefront again," he said. "Couldn't pushing forth with the proposal deal us a negative blow?"

Nevertheless, most members of the Constitution revision headquarters said they agreed to entrust the final decision to Hosoda, and the task force ultimately determined that this would be their policy.

The amendment proposal cites a 1972 Japanese government statement declaring that Japan cannot be said to be legally prohibited from exercising self-defense measures necessary to maintain the country's peace and safety and preserve its existence. However, the 1972 statement limits "self-defense measures" to "the minimum required level."

The proposed amendment to Article 9 has the potential to expand the scope of the SDF's activities. Dismissing the LDP proposal, a senior Komeito official said on the night of March 22, "It possibly contradicts security-related legislation that recognizes Japan's limited right to engage in collective self-defense."

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