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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Constitution referendum bill clears key committee


Staff writer

The campaign to revise the Constitution took another step forward Friday when a key Upper House panel passed a bill to establish procedures for a national referendum on the war-renouncing national charter.

Backed by the ruling alliance — the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito — the referendum bill is now almost certain to be endorsed Monday by the full Upper House.

Once the law is enacted, it will take effect in three years, setting detailed legal procedures to change the Constitution for the first time since it was introduced 60 years ago.

During debate at the Upper House special committee on constitutional research, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his support for revising the Constitution, which was drafted in 1947 during the Allied Occupation.

"In the past 60 years, the international community as well as our own country and society have changed drastically," Abe said. "We are at a time now when (Japan) has been asked to cooperate (in the international community) and we ourselves need to protect the lives and assets of the people, and it is natural that we discuss what is (a suitable) new Constitution."

The Constitution stipulates that any changes to the charter must be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet and then by a simple majority in a national referendum. But no legal framework has so far been established to hold the referendum.

"I believe that it was negligence on the part of the lawmakers that a law to set procedures to revise the Constitution — which is stipulated in Article 96 (of the charter) — had not been established for 60 years," LDP Upper House lawmaker Yoichi Masuzoe told the panel.

The bill stipulates that Japanese nationals aged 18 and over will be able to vote. The original bill, submitted by the LDP and New Komeito to the regular Diet session last year, had stipulated age 20 and over.

But the ruling bloc lowered the age requirement in March in a compromise with the Democratic Party of Japan, which had submitted its own version of the bill that set the minimum voting age at 18.

Currently, the legal voting age and the definition of adulthood in Japan is 20 and over. The referendum bill includes a provision that says that until legal steps are taken to lower the standard to 18 on other matters, the voting age for a national referendum will be 20 and older.

Critics say that lowering the age will take a long time because such changes will not only affect the Public Offices Election Law and the Civil Law, but also many other laws and regulations on issues such as marriage, smoking and drinking.

The referendum bill also states that the proposals for a revision to the Constitution must be submitted item-by-item, rather than as a package of amendments.



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