Constitution Day: Deepen Discussion to Maintain Peace / The Time Has Come to Draft Specific Provisions

As we mark the 77th anniversary of the current Constitution taking effect, there is no doubt that it has helped to ingrain the preciousness of peace and the idea of democracy in Japan and served as the foundation for the nation’s economic development.

However, Japan can no longer adequately deal with the turbulent international situation and domestic political issues simply by efforts to defend the Constitution. It is vital to consistently discuss how the supreme law should be and make necessary revisions from the standpoint of what is needed to maintain peace.

Security environment worsened

The postwar international order, led by the United States and Europe, is on the verge of collapse due to the prolonged Russian aggression against Ukraine and conflicts in the Middle East. In addition to North Korea, which continues its nuclear and missile development, China has become a threat to Japan’s security as it builds up its military capabilities.

The Japanese government has overcome situations that were unexpected when the Constitution was enacted by putting in place new laws based on new constitutional interpretations. However, there is a limit to dealing with such situations without changing the Constitution, which is the foundation of law and order.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 63% of respondents were positive about constitutional revision, the highest result ever under the current polling method. The public is also concerned about the worsening security environment.

Despite this, debate on the Constitution in the Diet has been sluggish. The Commission on the Constitution at the House of Representatives has met only three times during the current Diet session.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly stated that he hopes to achieve constitutional revision during his term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

If that is the case, Kishida should express his views in a way that will inspire public opinion, but he has made little effort for that purpose. It is inevitable for suspicion to arise that Kishida’s positive statements on constitutional revision are only a pose to retain the support of conservative voters.

The fact that the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, has demanded that LDP lawmakers who were punished for violating the Political Funds Control Law be removed as members of the constitutional panel has been another reason for sluggish debate in the Diet. This attitude, which seems to entangle political affairs with the discussion of the Constitution, is too old-fashioned.

The LDP has called for the establishment of a committee for drafting provisions within the constitutional panel. Discussions based on specific draft provisions would clarify points of contention and issues to be addressed and deepen public understanding.

In 2018, the LDP announced its proposal for constitutional revision based on four items: stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, responding to emergency situations, eliminating integrated constituencies in House of Councillors elections and improving the education system. Of these, only the emergency response item is being debated at the lower house constitutional panel, ahead of the other items.

The LDP, its coalition partner Komeito, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People have argued that there should be a provision allowing Diet members to extend their terms of office in cases when elections cannot be held due to a large-scale disaster or other reasons.

An emergency session of the upper house, which is provided for in the Constitution, is supposed to be held for a maximum of 70 days between the dissolution of the lower house and the convening of a special Diet session.

It is important to ensure that even in the event of an emergency or disaster that lasts for a longer period, the Diet can fulfill its functions, including the ability to enact necessary laws.

Don’t evade revising Article 9

In light of the extremely deteriorated security environment, in-depth discussions of Article 9 are also essential.

At their summit in April, Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden expressed their determination to “work together” on their security policy. They intend for the SDF and the U.S. military to operate in an integrated manner.

The Japan-U.S. alliance will be further solidified if the SDF goes beyond its conventional role as a “shield” (with an exclusively defense-oriented policy) to assume part of the role of the U.S. forces as a “spear” (with offensive capabilities).

With this change in defense policy in mind, some members of the LDP have recently argued that simply stipulating the existence of the SDF in the Constitution is not sufficient. They propose deleting Paragraph 2 of Article 9, which prohibits the possession of any war potential, and including a provision for the right to exercise self-defense.

In 2015, the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enacted legislation allowing the exercise of the right of collective self-defense in limited situations when the existence of the nation is threatened. Even now, however, the government maintains that the use of the right of self-defense should be kept to a minimum, and equipment should be limited to defense-specific items.

It is an understandable aim to stipulate the right of self-defense in the Constitution and strengthen defense capabilities, including the possession of capabilities to attack enemy bases, in order to protect the lives and property of the people. Each political party should delve more deeply into the debate.

How to perceive vote-value disparities

Another important issue is how to consider vote-value disparities.

In recent years, the judiciary has interpreted the concept of equality under the law as “equality of voting values” and is seeking to correct vote-value disparities. In response, the upper house has introduced a system of combining constituencies, in which neighboring prefectures are combined into one constituency. The lower house also has often changed the zoning of single-seat constituencies according to population changes.

However, if this trend continues, there will be no lawmakers to give voice to the issues of depopulated areas in national politics. This could undermine the system of representative democracy, in which politics is entrusted to representatives chosen by voters.

One idea is the LDP’s constitutional amendment proposal to position upper house lawmakers as “regional representatives” so that the voices of local communities can be heard in the Diet. It is necessary to consider this issue, along with a review of the division of roles between both chambers of the Diet.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 3, 2024)