Voting will be held on Sept. 20 to select a new president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with a two-week campaigning period for the election beginning on Sept. 7.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has yet to announce his candidacy to seek a third consecutive term, but the race is expected to become a face-off between the premier and former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, and rivalry over whether to make constitutional revisions a theme of the election or not is already underway between the two.
The prime minister said in a speech in his home prefecture of Yamaguchi in western Japan last week that he intends to submit a bill to change the supreme law to the extraordinary session of the Diet this fall.
Abe intends to maintain the first and second paragraphs of the Constitution's Article 9 that renounce war and deny Japan possessing any war potential while adding a clause mentioning the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Ishiba is opposed to this proposal, insisting that paragraph 2 be deleted and a provision be incorporated to specifically state the SDF as military forces.
Abe told the Yamaguchi audience that he "cannot continue discussions forever." The premier apparently wants to beat Ishiba in the presidential election, settle intraparty debate over Article 9 and push for constitutional revisions as a top priority issue for his third term at the helm of the ruling party.
However, a four-point draft plan for constitutional revisions, put together by the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution shortly before a party convention in March, indicates signs of a rush job. Their plan for Article 9 can be construed to open the doors for the full-scale use of the right to collective self-defense. More detailed discussions of revising the Constitution are necessary.
The premier is trying to make constitutional amendment a focal point in the LDP race because he apparently calculates that doing so will work in his favor.
Ishiba's revision plan is in line with a 2012 constitutional draft compiled by the LDP, but it is not acceptable to Komeito, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, and submitting it to the Diet is not realistic.
Ishiba understands that he is fighting an uphill battle. "Efforts must be made to deepen understanding of the people to revise the Constitution," he said, insisting that more time is needed for discussions on the subject inside the party while criticizing the premier's attitude toward revisions as "just running a preplanned course."
But Ishiba has a problem. He is countering the prime minister by emphasizing the need to change the supreme law to carry out electoral reforms that eliminate combined prefectural constituencies that deprived some prefectures of having their local representatives in the Diet. But this proposal and the inclusion of a clause about the SDF into the supreme law are part of the LDP's four-point plan. Both of these two items are not included in the 2012 party draft for a new Constitution. Under these circumstances, it is not convincing to argue that changing the supreme law to remove combined constituencies is a matter of urgency.
If Ishiba's position is based on the consideration of the wishes of the LDP faction headed by Wataru Takeshita and his fellow House of Councillors lawmakers, Ishiba cannot evade criticism that his argument is also self-serving.
It is understandable that how to proceed with constitutional revisions, which has been on the party platform, should be a focus of debate in the upcoming party presidential election. But one has no choice but to feel that something is amiss with maneuvering that appears to treat the Constitution, the country's highest law, as a political tool.