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Tuesday, Feb. 9, 1999

Bill to amend Constitution breaks taboo


Staff writer

In a move that could break a longtime political taboo, a suprapartisan group of lawmakers decided Tuesday to submit a bill to create a research panel in both chambers of the Diet to review the 51-year-old Constitution for possible amendments in the future.

The bill will be presented to the Diet by the end of the current 150-day regular session, which ends in mid-June. Further details of the bill will be discussed as early as next week among secretaries general of parties whose members belong to the group.

With the decision, a long-held dream of conservative lawmakers to amend the Constitution to "make it suitable for the needs of today's society" seems to have taken a step closer to reality.

But the actual amendments may still be years away because there seems to be no consensus even among members of the group over how specifically to amend the Constitution, which was adopted in 1946 and implemented the following year while the nation was under U.S.-led occupation after its defeat in World War II.

The group, formed in May 1997, initially aimed to create a standing Diet committee to review the Constitution. The group is led by veteran LDP lawmaker and former Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, and consists of some 350 lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, as well as the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, New Komeito and Kaikaku Club.

Unlike the members' initial goal, Tuesday's decision was based on a joint proposal made by the three opposition forces last week to establish a less powerful research panel that does not have authority to propose a bill to the Diet.

At one stage of discussion, the group was split between LDP and Liberal Party members who pushed to create a powerful standing committee, and members of the three opposition parties who fear that creation of such a committee may immediately lead to moves for Constitutional amendments.

"But the LDP and Liberal Party members have agreed to a compromise to achieve their ultimate goal to create some kind of panel within the Diet to review the Constitution," Nakayama said.

However, it appears to be only the first step for the proponents of Constitutional revisions. Some opposition party leaders, including New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki, welcome discussions on the Constitution but will not necessarily agree on constitutional amendments.

If the conservative blocs hastily press for constitutional amendments, it is expected that the DPJ, which has many labor-backed left-leaning lawmakers among its ranks, and New Komeito, many of whose supporters praise the pacifist concept of the Constitution, are likely to back off from the move.

Some observers also point out that although parties whose members belong to the suprapartisan group comprise a great majority in the Diet, they cannot completely ignore voices of the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party — vehement opponents to any constitutional revisions, in establishing a new panel in the Diet.

It is also likely that lawmakers will have to go a long way before they can actually start discussions on the agenda of debate because Nakayama's group has merely decided to establish the panel. There is no consensus among its members as to which part of the Constitution should be amended.



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