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60% opposed to amendment of Japan's Constitution under Abe

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- More than half of Japanese polled oppose any constitutional revisions under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of whose top political goals is to rewrite the charter by 2020, a Kyodo News survey showed Wednesday.

According to the mail-in survey conducted ahead of the 71st anniversary on May 3 of Japan's supreme law taking effect, 61 percent of the respondents were against amending the Constitution under Abe, compared with 38 percent in favor.

Sixty-two percent did not back the 2020 timeframe set by Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party for achieving a first-ever constitutional amendment, while 36 percent were in support.

However, the survey also showed a majority of the public, at 58 percent, think amending the supreme law in the future is "necessary" or "somewhat necessary," versus 39 percent who saw no such need. Many of those who advocated revision cited the "outdatedness" of some clauses.

The results indicate that while many Japanese see a need to revise the Constitution to fit with the times, they feel no need to rush -- an attitude that may reflect distrust in the current administration in the wake of political scandals including cronyism allegations against Abe.

The survey also highlights the public's appreciation for the war-renouncing Article 9, with 69 percent saying it is the reason Japan has never used force overseas since the end of World War II.

Revising Article 9 is one of the LDP's proposals. Abe on May 3 last year called for clarifying the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces in the article, arguing that the lack of reference to Japanese armed troops in the postwar supreme law leaves room for them to be viewed as "unconstitutional."

Last month, the LDP adopted Abe's proposal. Besides the war-renouncing clause, the conservative ruling party raised three other potential areas for constitutional revision, including education and the electoral system.

The respondents were divided on whether Article 9, which renounces war and bans the possession of military forces and other "war potential," needs changing, with 44 percent in favor of its revision and 46 percent against it.

Miho Aoi, a law professor at Gakushuin University, said the survey showed the public is "swinging" on whether or not to revise the article.

"Debate over constitutional revision needs special knowledge. We should by no means revise the Constitution without sufficient discussions and understanding among the people," Aoi said.

Asked about whether they are interested in the issue of constitutional revision itself, 73 percent said they were "interested" or "interested to some extent."

Shujiro Kato, a professor emeritus of politics at Toyo University, said the public felt a need to revise Article 9 in some ways amid growing security concerns posed by North Korea and China, but did not see it as an urgent matter.

Noting that debate over the issue has not deepened, Kato said, "Political parties and lawmakers should explain the points for discussion regarding revising the Constitution and priorities in revisions as much as possible."

Abe was seen as having a golden opportunity to amend the Constitution as the LDP and other parties supportive of doing so currently account for two-thirds of seats in both chambers of the Diet -- the threshold required to put amendment proposals to a national referendum.

But his plunging approval ratings and waning grip on power due to a flurry of scandals, including favoritism allegations against himself and a sexual harassment claim involving a top bureaucrat, have clouded prospects for constitutional reform.

The survey randomly picked 3,000 people aged 18 and older nationwide, and questionnaires were sent to them by mail on March 7. A total of 2,040 sent back their answers by April 13, with valid responses collected from 1,922.

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