Geopolitics

Prospects of Constitutional Reform after Japan’s Snap Elections
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Nov , 2017

The serious nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea to Japan have created compelling reasons for Japan to reconsider and revise Japan’s pacifist constitution.

The most debated constitutional reform is regarding Article 9 of its Constitution, which states, “(1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Hence, this clearly states that Japan prohibits the usage of warfare to resolve any international disputes, unless the nation first faces an attack.

However, global politics has drastically changed and taken a new direction with direct impact on regional politics and Japan therefore needs to move beyond a pacifist Constitution. For the first time, North Korea has directly threatened to “sink” Japan and has explicitly stated that it “no longer needs Japan to exist”.

Keeping the current situation in sight, Japan needs to safeguard its national interests and it is necessary for Japan to make revisions in the Constitution with support of two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber of parliament followed by a national referendum with a majority support by the people of Japan.

Earlier this year, Abe had spoken of legitimizing the Self-Defence Force (SDF) by adding a clause in Article 9 of the Constitution. The clause would call SDF as “an organization which allows the minimum force necessary for Self-Defence”. The clause will categorically give a strong recognition to SDF. Earlier in May, Abe had made a statement of reforming the Constitution by 2020 but after winning the snap elections by two-thirds majority, he is in favour of building a consensus amongst the ruling bloc and the opposition because of its far-reaching consequences.

By and large Abe’s proposal is supported by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, Kibo no To and Nippon Ishin no Kai and they, together exceed the two-thirds majority required to initiate a constitutional amendment but Abe is keento bring to table, the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) too.

Opinion Surveys have showed a divided opinion over the same. In May, a voter poll about revising Article 9 was conducted by Mainichi Shimbun. 32% responded that they were not sure while 31%opposed it. Only 28% responded that they were in support of revising the Article. To gain the support of voters, Abe needs to articulate, in detail, about what exactly a constitutional revision would mean for the Japanese people.

However, at the same time, it is interesting to note that Abe has won the snap elections with a majority by winning 312 out of 465 in the lower house of parliament. Abe is likely to continue his previous policy of “bromantic” ties with Washington, a hard stand on North Korea, a loose monetary policy and the push for a reformed constitution. The voters are fearful of North Korea and believe that Mr. Abe will be able to maintain the status quo and firmly fight the threat posed by North Korea.

Abe firmly believes in the US policies on the North Korean issue but there is also a lurking fear that Washington may not be fully aware of the intensity of the concerns of the Japanese people. However, Japan is highly cautious about some of the belligerent statements made by the US administrationagainst Pyongyang and it does not make resonance to the Japanese people. Many doubt the wisdom of seeking a military solution to the issue.

Abe needs to give due consideration to three major elements when he thinks about constitutional reform and they are, the Japanese political parties, the voters of Japan and the regional neighbors like South Korea, China, Taiwan and more. A recent survey states that sixty one percent of the largest opposition (CDPJ) opposed constitutional reform. Though this does not stop Abe from carrying out the amendment as CDPJ only won 55 seats in the snap elections but Abe wants to discuss the same with the aforesaid party in order to form a consensus and more importantly, to not isolate it.

Merely building a consensus amongst political parties is not enough because the Japanese voters are directly involved in the process and Abe needs to win the support of the voters in a national referendum. Therefore, it is necessary for Abe to win the hearts of the Japanese people.Abe needs to persuade the people by categorically issuing a statement of what exactly he proposes to achieve by way of a constitutional amendment.

There are several active non-governmental Anti-War groups in Japan too and Abe should not forget to take them into consideration because they could play a crucial role in the decision of the voters. Similarly, any hasty decision by Japan can provoke strong criticisms in neighboring countries and thus Japan needs to move forward with great caution and circumspection.

The amendment would be a major turning point on the road to Japan becoming a normal state with legitimate ambitions to acquire military capabilities to enhance its security role in the Asia-Pacific region.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Supriya Sharma

Supriya Sharma, Researcher, East Asia Studies, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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