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Saturday, May 5, 2012
Rushing for constitutional changes
Japan marked the 65th anniversary of the enforcement of the postwar Constitution on Thursday, and 60 years have passed since the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect on April 28, 1952, ending Japan's occupation by the Allied Powers. Until that day, decrees issued by the occupation forces headquarters had priority over the Constitution.
A conspicuous phenomenon this year is that several political parties — the Liberal Democratic Party, Your Party, Tachiagare Nippon (the Sunrise Party of Japan) and Osaka Ishin-no Kai (Osaka Association for Reform), a local party headed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto — have put forth proposals for revising the Constitution. It may be that they are trying to create selling points in the next Lower House election by taking advantage of the spread of the feeling of helplessness in society amid the long period of economic stagnation and in the wake of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.
Common sense tells that it is important to take a cautious attitude to these proposals for constitutional revisions because they have cropped up suddenly in the absence of informed public debate on the issues being dealt with by these proposals.
The basic idea behind enacting a constitution is to put a strict limit on the government's power so that citizens' rights and freedom will be fully protected.
Another basic idea is to set up a governing system that will ensure the protection of differing opinions and facilitate solutions to problems through dialogue and compromise. It is imperative for each citizen to scrutinize these proposals for constitutional revisions from these viewpoints.
Your Party and Osaka Ishin-no Kai are calling for the introduction of a one-chamber Diet system for the sake of expediting political decisions. The LDP wants to give emergency powers to the government to curtail basic human rights such as property rights and the right to change one's residence and to issue decrees having the same power as laws in emergency situations like major disasters and a military attack.
These proposals completely ignore the basic constitutional principle of dispersing power to prevent the concentration of power in one sector of the governing system.
It must be remembered that the two-chamber Diet system is designed to ensure compromise that reflects various opinions. A one-chamber system carries the danger of making hasty and uninformed policy decision.
Political leaders, when facing a divided Diet, should view the challenge as a test of their ability to make constructive compromise through sincere negotiations and discussions. They should make the utmost effort so that such compromises will be made.
The important thing in dealing with emergencies is that the government continually prepares for such situations through the accumulation of relevant data and knowledge so that it can more skillfully use all the means and resources at its disposal to solve problems once emergencies occur.
The LDP and Tachiagare Nippon are also calling for the establishment of full-fledged armed forces in place of the Self-Defense Forces. Our concern is that they may be deluded in thinking that possession of a full-fledged military will instantly solve diplomatic problems faced by the nation. The danger of abuse with a more powerful military by the government should never be underestimated nor forgotten.
The LDP's proposal stresses the importance of having pride in the Japanese nation and respecting harmony. It also states that people must respect the national flag and anthem. It is deplorable that the LDP has forgotten the principle that these attitudes should be nurtured spontaneously.
The principal tenet of conservatism is to respect the natural historical order that evolves spontaneously within society. This is the meaning of tradition. It must be said that the LDP has now greatly deviated from conservatism in a true sense of the word. And it is clear that the LDP's proposal infringes on the freedom of thought and conscience.
Additionally, the LDP, Your Party and Tachiagare Nippon call for changing the status of the emperor from the "symbol of the State and the unity of the people, deriving from his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power" as stipulated by the Constitution to the head of state on top of being the symbol of people's unity.
The Meiji Constitution's stipulation that the emperor is the head of the Japanese state (the "Empire") should be regarded as an historical exception for Japan. It must be questioned whether changing the emperor's status, as called for by the three parties, is in keeping with Japanese tradition.
Forces calling for constitutional revisions often say the current Constitution was imposed by the occupation authorities. But they should not forget the fact that it was the Japanese Diet that inserted Article 25 and a section of Article 26 to improve the lives of the people.
Article 25 says that "All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living" and calls on the government to endeavor to promote social welfare, social security and public health.
Article 26, which upholds the principle of equal education according to people's ability, has a section stating that compulsory education shall be free. Today's conditions characterized by the spread of low-paying irregular jobs requires the government to go beyond this provision to ensure that any motivated child has access to higher education irrespective of their ability to pay or access to funds.
As people struggle with the effects of the 3/11 disasters, it is all the more important for the government to make serious efforts to translate into reality those concepts expressed by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.