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Public split over stipulating SDF in war-renouncing Constitution: Mainichi poll

In this Oct. 23, 2016 file photo, Self-Defense Forces personnel listen to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during an inspection event on the training ground of the Ground Self-Defense Force Asaka base in Saitama Prefecture. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The public is split over whether to stipulate the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in Japan's pacifist Constitution, according to a Mainichi Shimbun poll conducted on April 21 and 22 prior to Constitution Day on May 3.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is proposing the creation of an "Article 9-2" stipulating the existence of the SDF as an entirely new passage, following the current two-paragraph Article 9 renouncing war and banning Japan from possessing "war potential."

Some 31 percent of pollees were opposed to this proposal, while 27 percent were in favor. Meanwhile, 29 percent replied they were unsure, suggesting that public interest in amending the postwar Constitution remains low.

Under the LDP proposal, Article 9-2 would stipulate that the provisions of the preceding article do not preclude the state from taking necessary self-defense measures and the state shall possess the SDF as a means to achieve this. The clause is in line with a proposal that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made on May 3, 2017. However, the scope of "necessary self-defensive measures" remains obscure, raising the possibility that it would allow Japan to fully exercise the right to collective self-defense, some experts say.

Among respondents opposed to the proposal, 71 percent said that Article 9 should not be changed. Twelve percent responded that Article 9 should be amended to simply stipulate the existence of the SDF, while 13 percent said Article 9's second paragraph should be deleted.

By party affiliation, 49 percent of LDP backers were in favor of the proposal and 16 percent were opposed, while 27 percent said they were unsure. Those who support the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito were almost evenly split over the issue. An overwhelming majority of Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan backers objected to the proposal. Among independents, 36 percent said they were unsure, followed by 29 percent who were opposed to the proposal and 23 percent in favor.

Of the pollees, 36 percent said the Diet should initiate constitutional revisions by the end of this year, while 41 percent said the legislature does not have to do so, both slightly below the figures in the previous survey in March this year.

Since restrictions on constitutional revision campaigns are looser than those for elections, critics have pointed out that the results of a national referendum on constitutional amendment could be affected by both camps' ability to raise funds.

When asked whether the law on a national referendum on constitutional reform should tighten restrictions on such campaigns, 45 percent agreed and 32 percent said this was unnecessary.

(Japanese original by Kazuki Kuraoka, Poll Office)

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