Prime Minister Abe Shinzo sent a video message to the rally held on May 3 organized by advocators urging to amend the Constitution. He told a specific moment of amendment, saying that ‘the year 2020 will be a year of implementation of the new constitution’. He proposed a draft on Article Nine by adding one more item: ‘Items 1 and 2 of the article remain the same and Item 3 should be added that refers to the Self Defense Forces of Japan’.
INTERFERENCE OF PREMIER ABE IN COMMISSION ON CONSTITUTION
Premier Abe has not directly and concretely touched on a text to amend the constitution since his breakdown when he attempted to revise Article 96 (an article that requests the 2/3 parliamentary majority to amend the constitution). Now he has mentioned to change Article Nine. He raises some items, for instance, an exceptional measure to extend term of service of parliamentary members at contingency as well as a policy of tuition-free higher education, and links them with amending the Constitution. The items are shared in common with the Nippon Ishin, or the Japan Innovation Party.
His statement or his proposal itself undoubtedly violates Article 99 which provides obligation of public officials to respect the Constitution.
Debates in Commission on Constitution
The Commission on the Constitution of the House of Representatives reopened during the 2016 extraordinary session of the Diet after a-year-and-five-months absence since June 2015 when the panelists elected by the ruling parties told ‘the national security law violates the Constitution’. The commission remains active during the current Diet session. The Commission on the Constitution of the House of Councilors, however, which was closed in February, 2016, held one meeting during the 2016 extraordinary session, but has not been open in the current session.
The Commission discusses the constitution issue ‘as a general theme to be debated’ after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Democratic Party agreed in terms of the former’s claim that it would not withdraw its draft but it would not request to realize it as an imperative prerequisite.
The commission involves consecutively in: guarantee of the right to vote (unequal value of a vote, an exceptional measure of MPs’ tenure at contingency and Prime Minister’s right to dissolve the House of Representatives), relationship between state politics and municipal autonomy, new rights of people (the right to know and free education), and etc.
‘At this moment no political party has raised an urgent, concrete request to change the Constitution, though there are debates that it is better to revise it’ (Commissioner of the Democratic Party, Edano Yukio). From the point of parliamentary procedure for amendment, however, the four political parties which demand rewriting constitution (LDP, the Komei-to, the Ishin and the Kokoro) occupy over 2/3 of seats in both of the Houses and technically they are ready to initiate the process.
The ruling LDP has a strategy to ‘consult with the opposition parties to specify items to be amended’ by using the Commissions as a cover. The stance corresponds to the policy speech made by Premier Abe in the current Diet session in which he told: ‘let’s deepen concrete discussion in the Commissions on the Constitution’.
The LDP wants to pin down items for amendment and initiate the amendment process in the Diet as early as possible, but the Democratic Party disagrees with rewriting the Constitution under the Abe administration and refuses to discuss specific items.
We must watch carefully developments in the Commissions as Premier Abe clearly intervened to the Commission (his proposal on May 3).
The Commissions on the Constitution have a duty to ‘study broadly and comprehensively on laws relating directly to the Constitution’. They are entrusted to investigate totally the war legislation, which violates the Constitution, a bill for conspiracy crime and a special law on Emperor’s abdication.
The Commissions should not be used as a tool to compile a draft text for another constitution.
May 16, 2017