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LDP's Ishiba calls for caution over constitutional revision ahead of party leadership race

Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba, who is set to run in the party's leadership election next month, has called for caution in discussions on revisions to war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

"Moves to revise Article 9 shouldn't be bound by a certain time frame," Ishiba, former secretary-general of the LDP, told a news conference in the Diet Building on Aug. 17. His stance contrasts sharply with that of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has stepped up efforts to amend the Constitution with an eye to adding a paragraph stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Article 9.

Ishiba called into question remarks the prime minister made in a speech on Aug. 12 to the effect that the LDP "shouldn't just continue discussing the matter forever."

"I don't think thorough debate has been held," Ishiba told the news conference. "Revisions should be made after we provide a sincere explanation and win public understanding."

Ishiba further pointed out that a four-point proposal made by the party's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, including incorporating a paragraph on the SDF's existence, "hasn't been officially approved by the party" through its decision-making General Council and other party organizations.

Ishiba went on to describe a draft for constitutional revisions that the LDP adopted in 2012, when it was an opposition party, as the "one and only" option.

The LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution has proposed adding a paragraph on the SDF's existence to Article 9 while retaining its war-renouncing paragraph 1, as well as paragraph 2, which prohibits Japan from possessing any war potential.

The constitutional revision headquarters has also proposed eliminating House of Councillors constituencies spanning multiple prefectures, adding a clause providing for responses to emergency situations such as major disasters, and improving education.

Ishiba said on Aug. 17 that "there is no urgent need to write the existence of the SDF into the Constitution while retaining paragraph 2."

Prime Minister Abe and his aides believe that his proposal can win understanding from the general public and other political parties. The prime minister aims to score a landslide victory in the LDP presidential election in September and suppress calls to delete paragraph 2 of Article 9 in the supreme law.

"We'll settle the issue of which proposal should be the party's policy," a close aide to the prime minister was quoted as saying.

Ishiba, however, appears to be attempting to fend off the move to settle the issue at an early date by saying, "We haven't made enough efforts to make the meaning of Article 9 understood by the public."

The priority issues in constitutional reform, Ishiba maintains, are elimination of upper chamber electoral districts comprising multiple prefectures and the addition of a clause on government responses to emergency situations such as major natural disasters.

Ishiba, a former defense minister, has also touched on the state's accountability to the public, which was included in the 2012 LDP draft for constitutional amendment, and said revisions to guarantee people's right to know "would gain broad understanding from political parties."

In his Aug. 12 speech, Prime Minister Abe mentioned revisions to Article 9 as well as stipulations on education. Ishiba's remarks at the Aug. 17 news conference highlighted the differences between Abe and Ishiba over which clauses should be prioritized in constitutional amendment.

Regarding his proposal to eliminate upper house constituencies spanning multiple prefectures, Ishiba pointed out that the number of people in constituencies that have sparsely populated areas will continue to decline and said, "Unless the Constitution is amended, such merged electoral districts will only increase."

Ishiba also stressed that a clause on responses to emergency situations is necessary for Japan, which is prone to natural disasters, bearing in mind the torrential rains that hit western Japan in July.

Ishiba denied that his proposal for incorporating a clause on people's right to know came in response to favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution that have plagued the Abe administration. However, the LDP bigwig placed emphasis on "honesty" and "fairness" when he announced his candidacy in the LDP leadership race during a news conference on Aug. 10, in an apparent bid to highlight differences between his political position and that of Abe.

Still, neither Abe's proposal on constitutional amendments nor Ishiba's has won understanding from other political parties.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, told a news conference on Aug. 17 that broad consensus needed to be formed between ruling and opposition parties over the issue -- thereby indirectly warning the LDP against hastily discussing the matter.

(Japanese original by Keiko Takahashi and Hiroyuki Tanaka, Political News Department)

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