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Friday, Jan. 5, 2007

Abe pushes his wish list, hopes to take boar by the tusks

Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pitched his plans Thursday to revise the Constitution while he is in office, vowing to get voters to support his goals via the House of Councilors election in July.

During his first news conference this year, Abe, whose Cabinet has seen its public support rate dwindle since its September inauguration, noted that 2007 is the year of the boar, an animal renowned for its strength to push forward, and said he is ready to charge ahead, too.

"I would like to mark this year as the first year for building a beautiful country," the conservative leader said at the Prime Minister's Official Residence. "I would like to reconfirm Japan's good qualities, magnificence and beauty this year."

One of the Cabinet's main objectives for this year, Abe said, is to pass a referendum bill during the Diet session expected to start Jan. 25 that will lay down procedures to revise the Constitution. Amendments must be approved by a referendum, but the legal framework for such a vote has yet to be established.

"Sixty years have passed since the enactment of the Constitution," Abe said. "Now is the time to clarify (my) intention to create a new Constitution for a new era."

Collective defense, an activity prohibited under the government's interpretation of the Constitution, is also an issue that needs to be studied further, he added.

Abe stressed his hope that the ruling coalition suffers no setbacks in the summer Upper House poll. At present, the governing Liberal Democratic Party lacks a majority, holding only 111 out of the 242 seats in the chamber. It has managed to maintain a majority by its partnership with New Komeito, which has 24 seats.

Critics, however, have pointed out the possibility that the LDP will struggle and may even be stung in the July election.

One major factor is said to be the wave of scandals and other problems that Abe's new Cabinet has been hit with during the three months since its inauguration, resulting in a steady decline in its support rate.

First came the revelation that the government had paid "plants" in town hall meetings to speak in favor of its policies during the administration of Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. Then came the resignation of his tax panel chief, following quickly by that of his reform minister.

In mid-December, Tax Commission Chairman Masaaki Honma stepped down after a magazine reported he was living with a woman other than his wife at a government-paid condominium in Tokyo.

One week later, administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata resigned after admitting accounting irregularities by one of his political support organizations. But Abe seemed unfazed.

"During the 100 days (since the inauguration of the new Cabinet), I believe (we) were able to establish a foundation for building a beautiful country," Abe figured, expressing his satisfaction over the previous extraordinary Diet session in which he managed to pass key legislation, including the revision of the Fundamental Law of Education and a bill to turn the Defense Agency into a ministry.

Abe stressed the need to continue education reforms based on the revised fundamental law, adding he intends to push for other necessary revisions during the next Diet session.

"(I) will fulfill my responsibility to guarantee equal opportunity for everyone to receive high-standard education," Abe said.

On North Korea, Abe expressed his disappointment over the failure of the recent six-party talks to denuclearize the hermit state.

"North Korea needs to fully understand that it must answer to the concern of the international society through the six-party talks, and in order to do so, I believe it is necessary to put pressure (on Pyongyang)," he said.

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The Japan Times

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