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PM Abe abandons bid to revise Constitution in 2020 due to deadlock over scandals

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen at the prime minister's office on Dec. 5, 2019. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has abandoned his goal of revising the postwar Constitution and enforcing it in 2020, those linked to the governing coalition said.

The reason for his decision is that Diet deliberations on revisions to the legislation on the procedure for holding a referendum on constitutional changes have been stalled over a scandal in which many members of a supporting body for Abe were present at a taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing party. Moreover, the opposition camp is criticizing the prime minister over the resignation of two members of his Cabinet in autumn over political scandals.

Abe is poised to amend his goal and aim to only enforce revisions to the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan before his last term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) expires in September 2021. The LDP presidency carries with it the position of prime minister because the party has a majority in the House of Representatives.

The prime minister intends to try to gain cooperation from opposition parties in enacting the law by clarifying that he no longer intends to amend the Constitution during his tenure -- just the act on procedures to change the supreme law.

Prime Minister Abe had previously declared his goal of enforcing a reformed Constitution in 2020 by saying on May 3, 2017, "The year 2020 when the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be held should be a milestone when Japan will be reborn."

However, key opposition parties reacted sharply to the move. Deliberations on a bill to amend the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan remain stalled and no progress has been made in discussions on constitutional amendments.

After the ruling camp won the July 2019 House of Councillors election, Prime Minister Abe urged the legislature to go ahead with debate on constitutional reform. "Diet members should hold thorough discussions on the matter. Let's fulfill our responsibility to the people," he said in his policy speech to the Diet on Oct. 4.

However, the opposition camp intensified its grilling of the government over the scandal involving the cherry blossom-viewing party the prime minister hosts each year in spring.

As a result, a vote on the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan has been postponed beyond next year's regular Diet session. Full-scale debate on specific clauses in the Constitution to amend will likely be delayed for a prolonged period.

Under these circumstances, the prime minister has reviewed his schedule of constitutional revisions and chosen to take time to gain cooperation from the opposition bloc.

"The prime minister wants to pave the way for constitutional revisions even if a revised Constitution can't come into force (in 2020)," said a senior member of the LDP.

A referendum on constitutional revisions is held within 60 to 180 days after the amendments are initiated by the Diet through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each chamber. Revisions can be approved if over half of all the votes cast in the referendum are in favor of the move.

A bill to revise the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan would open the way for the government to set up common polling stations at railway stations and commercial complexes just like in Diet and local elections.

(Japanese original by Shuhei Endo, Political News Department)

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