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New Japan upper house chief calls for constitutional reform debate

Akiko Santo speaks at a press conference marking her appointment as president of the House of Councillors, in the Diet building on Aug. 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Newly appointed president of the House of Councillors, Akiko Santo, expressed her hope for accelerating debate on amending Japan's postwar Constitution during a press conference on Aug. 1.

"It is a bit abnormal that the Constitution has not been properly discussed in the Diet even once over the past 70-plus years," Santo told reporters following her election as upper house president during a plenary session of the chamber earlier the same day. "I'm hoping that the Commission on the Constitution of the upper house will actively engage in debate."

A veteran member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and former upper house vice president, Santo was referring to constitutional reform pushed by Prime Minister and LDP President Shinzo Abe.

Santo, 77, was re-elected to the upper house in the July 21 election through proportional representation, securing her eighth term since her first election in 1974 -- the longest run of any current member of the chamber.

"I'd like to uphold fairness and selflessness and steer the chamber harmoniously as the house of good sense," she said.

Santo's constitutional revision remark came less than a week after LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Koichi Hagiuda, a close aide to Prime Minister Abe, hinted at the possibility of replacing House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima if Diet discussions on constitutional amendment remained stalled.

"If talks on the issue don't proceed with current members, it is extremely important to appoint someone influential as speaker (of the lower house) for the Diet to shift toward constitutional revision," Hagiuda told an online program on July 26.

Following the remark, Hagiuda came under fire from both within and outside the ruling coalition.

Currently, forces in favor of constitutional amendment hold a two-thirds majority in the lower chamber, but failed to retain that ratio -- necessary for initiating constitutional revision -- in the upper house in the July 21 election.

(Japanese original by Kei Sato, Political News Department)

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