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Abe's long-sought constitutional revision faces suddenly murky future

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sits in his seat in the LDP president's office at the party's headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Sept. 20, 2018. (Mainichi/Naoki Watanabe)

TOKYO -- The future of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cherished goal of constitutional revision turned murky on Sept. 20, after challenger Shigeru Ishiba fared better than expected in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election.

"Now (revision) is the largest focal point," Abe told reporters at a post-ballot news conference, reiterating his desire to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution at an early date.

Abe wants to keep the war-renouncing Article 9 but add the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Ishiba, a former defense minister and LDP secretary-general, wants to remove the article's second paragraph banning Japan from possessing "war potential" including land, sea, and air forces, and regard the SDF as military forces.

The Abe camp hoped to overwhelm Ishiba in their debate over constitutional revision with a landslide victory in the party leadership race. But the prime minister gained 55 percent of party member votes against Ishiba's 45 percent, highlighting the strength of internal opposition to Abe's position.

While Abe wants to change the supreme law quickly, Ishiba is more cautious and seeks "a national consensus." Former Economic Planning Agency chief Hajime Funada also expressed his opposition to Abe in this regard.

Intraparty rivalry aside, the premier also faces deteriorating prospects for securing support for his revision project from other political parties. The priority for discussing the subject with the LDP is "not high," asserted Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of junior coalition partner Komeito.

Opposition parties are even less sympathetic to Abe's initiative. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, remains opposed to Abe's reform plan. It is essentially the same with the Democratic Party for the People. "If he wants to revise the Constitution to make a name for himself in history, that's personal, and not for the people," said party chief Yuichiro Tamaki.

Abe wants to submit revision proposals to the extraordinary session of the Diet this autumn. But the session is scheduled to focus first on revising the law on national referenda; a debate being carried over from the previous ordinary session following a clash between the ruling and opposition camps. The LDP's constitutional revisions will only be discussed after that.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Asahi, Political News Department)

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