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Ruling bloc defers constitutional referendum law revision to next year's Diet session

The National Diet Building is seen in Tokyo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito decided on Dec. 5 to defer the enactment of a bill to revise the constitutional referendum law to the ordinary session of the Diet next year, amid a fierce backlash from opposition parties against the ruling bloc's forcible convening of a lower house constitution panel last week.

The move delays Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cherished goal of amending the war-renouncing Constitution during his time in office. The LDP has already given up on a plan to present its draft revisions to the Constitution, including writing the existence of the Self-Defense Forces into the supreme law, to the current extraordinary Diet session, and intends to propose the revisions during next year's ordinary session.

On Dec. 5, Yoshitaka Shindo of the LDP, the head representative of the ruling camp in the House of Representatives' Commission on the Constitution, met his opposition camp counterpart Ikuo Yamahana of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) at the Diet. Yamahana, who sharply reacted to the ruling bloc's forcible convening of the lower house constitution panel on Nov. 29, demanded that the panel not meet on Dec. 6, which is its last regular meeting day during the current Diet session. In response, Shindo apologized and said, "I take the request seriously."

The ruling parties then held a gathering of panel directors and decided to give up on the plan to hold a meeting of the panel on Dec. 6. Regarding the move, Shindo told reporters, "It is the primary role of the chief representative of the ruling bloc in the panel to create an environment for panel members to deepen discussions. I had the ruling camp panel directors decide (on whether to hold the meeting on Dec. 6) in light of whether the decision would contribute to that mission." Yamahana praised the move, saying, "I think it is a way of taking responsibility."

Prime Minister Abe, who heads the LDP, had aspired to have the party present its four-point draft revisions to the Constitution to the current Diet session. However, the CDP and other opposition parties refused to hold a meeting of the constitution panel, forcing the LDP to drop the plan.

Shindo told a group of media representatives on Dec. 5, "There's no change to our policy direction to deepen public discussion toward constitutional reform."

The bill to amend the constitutional referendum law, or the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan, is designed to rectify the inconsistencies between the measure and the Public Offices Election Act, on issues including installation of common polling stations at commercial complexes. The bill was carried over from the ordinary Diet session earlier this year, and was never put to debate during the current extraordinary session.

Article 96 of the supreme law stipulates: "Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast thereon, at a special referendum or at such election as the Diet shall specify."

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka and Hiroshi Odanaka, Political News Department)

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