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PM Abe backtracks from constitutional draft 'submission' to 'explanation'

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has backtracked from his declaration to submit a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) constitutional amendment bill to the upcoming Diet session, and is instead saying he will "explain" the ruling party's draft revisions to the Commission on the Constitution in each chamber of the Diet, it has been learned.

At a meeting with former LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura at the prime minister's office on Oct. 3, Prime Minister Abe expressed his intention to explain to both the ruling and opposition parties the four constitutional revisions the LDP proposes, including the explicit recognition of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), in the extraordinary session of the Diet that is expected to be called at the end of the month.

Komura pressed Abe to confirm if he meant that he was going to explain the LDP's draft bill to the constitutional commissions in both the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives, and Abe replied, "It's fine that you take it that way."

This came on the heels of a news conference the previous day, in which Abe had proclaimed that he would aim to submit an LDP draft revision in the next Diet session -- and it had generally been interpreted that the prime minister was set to do so in the extraordinary session of the Diet. However, he has toned down his enthusiasm, effectively saying in his talks with Komura that he would be happy "providing an explanation" that would serve as a launching pad for debate on constitutional amendment.

This March, the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution drew up a draft revision that included the recognition of the existence of the SDF in war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, the establishment of an "emergency clause," the elimination of merged House of Councillors constituencies and an improvement in the education environment.

In the previous Diet session, however, opposition parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan responded with caution, and the LDP was barely able to provide explanations of the party's draft revisions in the two chambers' constitutional commissions.

Prime Minister Abe also expressed enthusiasm for preliminary talks with its junior coalition partner Komeito, but Komeito has refused to comply, and is instead seeking direct discussion in the constitutional commissions with all other parties present.

"When it comes to (discussion on) the Constitution, there is no distinction between ruling and opposition parties. We are all equal players in the Diet. ... It is not appropriate to advance debate outside the playing field (among a limited group), and to then bring it up for everyone to discuss," Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi told Democratic Party for the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki on Oct. 3, a comment meant to keep the prime minister in check.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka, Political News Department)

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