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LDP's plan to revise Constitution's Article 9 could raise questions about self-defense

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen addressing the Liberal Democratic Party convention in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on March 25, 2018. (Mainichi)

A proposal adopted by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to revise war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to stipulate the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) has sparked criticism not only from opposition forces but from its junior coalition partner as it could raise fresh questions about the scope of the right to self-defense Japan can exercise.

The LDP approved the proposal drafted by Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of the party's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's intentions at a party convention on March 25.

Under the plan that Hosoda managed to finalize in time for the convention, Article 9's war-renouncing first paragraph and second paragraph that bans Japan from possessing any war potential would be retained, and a new clause stating that the provision of the preceding paragraphs do not preclude the country from taking necessary self-defense measures would be added.

Opposition parties reacted sharply to the proposal as it could open the way for Japan to fully exercise the right to collective self-defense.

A senior official of Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, also criticized the LDP's plan. "Discussions on the security legislation in 2015, which clearly set the limit on Japan's right to self-defense, would come to nothing," the official said.

If the proposal were to be submitted to the commissions on the Constitution at both houses of the Diet as it is, it would inevitably spark fresh debate on the consistency between the proposed amendment and the prime minister's explanation that the SDF's mission and authority would remain unchanged.

Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who advocates the deletion of Article 9's second paragraph, criticized the party's revisions proposal.

Pointing out that the prime minister "repeated the statement he had made on Constitution Memorial Day (May 3) last year" at the party convention, Ishiba told reporters that the proposal "can't be called a culmination of a year-long discussion."

Under the circumstances, there is no guarantee that the LDP will reach even intraparty consensus on a specific draft of the revised Constitution.

The approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet have plunged due to a scandal involving the document doctoring at the Ministry of Finance over a heavily discounted land sale to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, casting a shadow over the prime minister's unifying force.

On March 24, the LDP's regional organizations expressed concerns about the impact of the scandal on the prospects of revising the postwar supreme law. "Unless the party fulfills its accountability for the Moritomo case, we can't achieve constitutional revisions," said Kiyoshi Hagiwara, secretary-general of the party's Nagano Prefecture chapter.

LDP Chief Deputy Secretary-General Shinjiro Koizumi also pointed out on March 25 that people who come to the party convention support constitutional revisions, but "there are others across the country who support opposition parties or back no particular political party. Constitutional amendment can't be achieved without public trust."

The LDP's envisioned plan to hold in-depth discussions at the commissions on the Constitution in the Diet and propose constitutional revisions by the end of this year is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

While LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai expressed enthusiasm about forming a consensus on constitutional amendment as early as possible, other parties have kept their distance from the LDP's proposal, which includes not only the stipulation of the SDF but also the proposed establishment of an emergency clause on responses to major earthquakes and other disasters.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito who addressed the LDP convention as a guest, made no mention of revisions to the supreme law.

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