It’s time for parties to get serious about constitutional discussions

What should the nation’s supreme law be? It can be said that Japan has finally overcome a small hurdle toward a full-scale debate on the Constitution.

The revised National Referendum Law was passed in the Diet by a majority vote with support from the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other parties. In the event of a referendum on constitutional revision, the revised law will make it possible to set up common polling stations in commercial facilities and train stations, and allow students training at sea to vote.

These measures have already been introduced for national elections in order to increase convenience for voters. It is only natural that they should also be applied to national referendums.

It took about three years from its submission to the Diet in 2018 to establish the revised law.

The CDPJ had not agreed to participate in the deliberations for a long time, calling for tighter restrictions on TV advertising in campaigns for national referendums to prevent unfairness that would come from differences in funding strengths among political parties and other groups. The intention was probably to postpone constitutional debate.

During the current Diet session, a revision was made to include a review item in the supplementary provision stipulating that such matters as TV advertising would be reviewed around three years after the enforcement of the revised law and necessary measures will be taken. It is commendable that the ruling and opposition parties reached a compromise.

However, there is still concern that the CDPJ and other parties will use this provision as an excuse to postpone deliberations again. The ruling and opposition parties should clearly state that the review of the regulation of advertising will proceed in parallel with the debate on the Constitution.

For a national referendum on constitutional revision, it is essential to create an environment in which people with various opinions can freely and openly discuss the issues and the public can make appropriate judgments. With the growing influence of the internet and social media, it is necessary to consider the desirable state of freedom of expression and regulation.

In the debate on constitutional revision, it is important for the legislative body to first face up to challenges and deepen the issues to be discussed. The commissions on the Constitution of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors must compile a draft proposal for a revision after repeatedly engaging in thorough discussions and must carefully explain the necessity and significance of the revision to the people.

Many items must be discussed regarding revision.

Japan’s security environment is changing significantly due to such factors as China’s expansionist behavior. The novel coronavirus pandemic has also brought to light the fact that the current Constitution does not have an emergency clause and the nation is not sufficiently prepared for crises.

What measures should be taken to protect national security and the lives and property of the people in times of emergency? The issue must be discussed from various angles.

The LDP has put together a draft revision of four items, including one that clearly stipulates the legal grounds for the Self-Defense Forces. At the end of last year, the Democratic Party for the People also released an outline of issues for constitutional revision. Each party needs to clarify specific proposals and basic policies for revision and engage in a vigorous debate before the next lower house election.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 12, 2021.