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New LDP constitutional revision chiefs close to Abe, lack expertise, connections

Hakubun Shimomura (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked two close aides as promoters of his long-sought political goal of constitutional revision inside the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Oct. 2, however, observers say they might not be up to the job ahead.

Abe appointed Hakubun Shimomura as the chairman of the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution. He also selected Katsunobu Kato as the head of the party's decision-making General Council. However, insiders point out these picks lack qualifications such as legal expertise or connection with other political parties -- including junior coalition partner Komeito, which is cautious about revising war-renouncing Article 9 of the supreme law.

"I guess (the prime minister) chose bulldozers because the discussion of constitutional revision has been bogged down for a while," said a former Cabinet member, explaining the choices as a sign of Abe's eagerness to accelerate discussions on changing the supreme law by choosing Shimomura and Kato.

The LDP promotion headquarters put together a four-point draft to revise the Constitution, including writing the existence of the Self-Defense Forces into the law. Abe told a press conference on Oct. 2 that he intends to submit the draft to the upcoming extraordinary session of the Diet.

But opinions on the new appointments are divided, even among lawmakers close to the prime minister. Shimomura's predecessor and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda played a leading role in compiling the four-point revision, and has expansive knowledge of the situation surrounding the ruling and opposition camps. "There was no need to replace him," a bewildered senior party official said.

In addition, Masahiko Komura, a pro-constitutional revision former lawmaker with a strong connection to Komeito, stepped down as vice-president of the LDP. His title inside the promotion headquarters was moved up from special adviser to supreme adviser, but it is now unlikely that he will play a leading role in constitutional revision, prompting those within the LDP to wonder if they will be able to settle differences with Komeito. The junior coalition party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi repeated on Oct. 2 that Komeito has no intention of holding talks before the LDP submits the draft revisions to the Diet.

Moreover, former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who ran unsuccessfully against Abe in the Sept. 20 LDP presidential election, is opposed to Abe's constitutional revision plan. He will certainly criticize the draft revisions possibly to be submitted by Shimomura to the General Council.

Kato took a cautious stance toward the issue when he spoke to the press on Oct. 2. "I am eager to see how the discussion will progress at promotion headquarters," he said. Ishiba also weighed in, saying, "I don't want them to manage things based on a predetermined schedule."

Making necessary adjustments on constitutional revision inside the ruling coalition is no easy task, and a leading LDP official is already defensive. "The premier said he will submit (a constitutional revision draft) to the extraordinary session, but the only thing we want to do is to explain a party proposal on the issue at the Constitution commissions of both houses of the Diet," said the official.

Key opposition parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan are demanding that restrictions on television commercials should be incorporated in changes to the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan, which stipulates the procedures for changing the supreme law. It is likely that political battle between the ruling and opposition camps will escalate over constitutional revision, as the House of Councillors election next summer approaches.

Under the current conditions, even a conservative LDP lawmaker said, "It is impossible to realize constitutional revision in a short period of time. Shimomura may only be a 'temporary figure' until the upper house election."

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka, Political News Department)

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