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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Article 9 in Abe's sights

Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took a major step Friday toward achieving his ultimate goal of revising the Constitution, as the bill to establish procedures for a national referendum to amend the supreme code cleared the Lower House.

Abe has repeatedly stressed that revising the Constitution, which was drafted during the Allied Occupation, is one of his priorities.

"Sixty years have passed since the enactment of the Constitution," Abe said in his first speech of the year on Jan. 4. "Now is the time to clarify (the Liberal Democratic Party's) intention to create a new Constitution for a new era."

A known conservative, Abe has declared that Japan must "slough off the postwar regime." He already has managed to gain passage of the controversial education bill aimed at instilling patriotism in classrooms and the bill that turned the Defense Agency into a ministry.

In 1955, when the LDP was established, the party announced that one of its goals was to amend the Constitution. Now, more than 50 years later, the party is finally taking its first steps forward toward that goal.

Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. Any changes also must be approved in a national referendum. But a legal framework for amendment has never been established.

"This is no ordinary law," said Hideki Mori, a professor at Ryukoku University specializing in the Constitution. "A national referendum to revise the Constitution will fundamentally determine the future of the nation."

If the bill is approved, the process for revising the Constitution will be complete. But political analysts, Constitution specialists and even LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa do not see a revision happening in the near future.

"Just because the referendum bill is approved does not mean that (lawmakers) will immediately move easily to revise the Constitution," Nakagawa told a recent news conference. "In order to revise the Constitution, there needs to be two-thirds approval from both the Lower and Upper houses. Therefore, (we) must first collect all the opinions (of each political party)."

In October 2005, before the bill was submitted to the Diet, the LDP drew up a draft for a new Constitution. Because the bill states that amendments will be based on individual proposals and not be completely rewritten, however, it is unlikely the draft will be used as is.

One of the major targets in the LDP's revision draft is the war-renouncing Article 9, which would be rewritten to officially allow Japan to possess a military for defense, thus reflecting the current reality that it does.

The draft retains Article 9's Clause 1, which states that the nation renounces war as a means of settling international disputes, but deletes Clause 2, which prohibits Japan from possessing a military, since that is exactly what the Self-Defense Forces are, if not by name.

Mori said this fundamental change would officially enable the current military to operate overseas.

The preamble of the LDP's draft Constitution also touches upon patriotism, stating "the Japanese people jointly hold an obligation to support and protect their country and society with affection, a sense of responsibility and spirit."

Mori, however, pointed out that the amendments were not that major, adding that he thought the draft in its present form was being used to lull the general public into the belief that the LDP won't do anything drastic to the Constitution.

"I think (the draft) embodied a soft approach that drew criticism even from within the party," Mori said. "But there is no guarantee that the LDP will base an actual (bill to revise the Constitution) on the draft. . . . Naturally, there is the possibility that it will insert old (conservative) ideas."

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, came up with its own proposal a few days after the LDP completed its draft in 2005.

The DPJ also proposed amending Article 9, but in a way that allows it to stay more faithful to the spirit of the article and to Japan's obligations as a member of the United Nations.

The proposal, which calls for the "restrictive" exercise of defense, would reserve the use of force only for emergencies until the United Nations can assist under its collective security activities.

This is based on Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which states that "nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

Overall, Mori said, the two largest parties appear to be sharing the same fundamental idea.

"The spirit of how (the two parties) view the Constitution is similar," Mori said. "The modern Constitution is a means for the general public to restrain the powers of authorities, but (the two parties) are trying to change that idea into creating a Constitution that stipulates goals embraced by both the public and the authorities."

Mori, however, pointed out that when the debate over constitutional revision heats up, opinions within both the LDP and DPJ will be divided because both parties have liberal and conservative elements.

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The Japan Times

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