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40% back Abe-proposed approach to revise pacifist Constitution: poll

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Forty percent of Japanese are supportive of an approach Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, a Kyodo News poll showed Wednesday.

    To propel his political ambitions, Abe's plan is to keep a paragraph of Article 9 banning Japan from possessing a military with "war potential," while stressing the need to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

    In the mail survey with valid responses received from 1,930 people aged 18 and older, 29 percent said the purpose and character of the country's defense forces should be clarified with the deletion of the paragraph and 27 percent said they see no need to mention the SDF in the article.

    In response to a more general question of whether the U.S.-drafted Constitution should be amended for the first time ever, 54 percent said they were opposed to it under the Abe administration while 42 percent backed it.

    The results show that a high hurdle still lies ahead for Abe to secure wider public support and meet his goal of having a revised Constitution take effect in 2020.

    The first paragraph of Article 9 states that the Japanese people forever renounce the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. To accomplish the aim, the second paragraph says land, sea and air forces, as well as other capacities to wage war, will never be maintained.

    Opinion was split over whether Article 9 should be revised, with 47 percent believing there is no need, while 45 percent said it would be necessary.

    Despite objections from some legal scholars, the government has maintained the position that the SDF is "constitutional" as it has interpreted the article as not banning Japan from possessing the "minimum necessary" capability to defend itself.

    Still, Abe has said it is vital to clarify the legal status of the SDF in the article to put an end to arguments that Japanese forces are "unconstitutional."

    Of those in favor of amending the article in survey, only 26 percent cited arguments that the SDF is unconstitutional as their rationale, and 56 percent picked the changing security environment facing Japan amid North Korea's nuclear and missile threat and China's military buildup.

    In the postwar era, Article 9 has served as the backbone of Japan's defense and foreign policy. Sine Abe returned to power in 2012, Japan has expanded the scope of SDF operations overseas by loosening the constraints under the Constitution.

    The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, having long placed constitutional reform as its goal, drew up draft proposals in March last year focusing on four pillars, including Article 9 and a new emergency clause.

    On the emergency clause that would allow the Cabinet to exert more power in limiting individual rights in times of large-scale disasters, 53 percent expressed opposition and 44 percent supported it.

    Regardless of specific issues, 63 percent responded that they think amending the Constitution is required, or somewhat necessary if they dare to choose, against 36 percent that did not see the need for it.

    Amending the Constitution requires approval by two-thirds majorities both houses of parliament, followed by majority support in a national referendum.

    The existing Constitution, which places the emperor as the symbol of the state, came into force on May 3, 1947.

    Ahead of Japan's annual celebration of Constitution Day on May 3, Kyodo News conducted the survey on 3,000 people between February and March, of which 64.3 percent, gave valid responses.

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