• Political Series

Suga shows no enthusiasm for constitutional revision

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shinzo Abe, top left, Yoshihide Suga, top right, Seishiro Eto, above center, and Toshihiro Nikai, above left

This is the second installment in a series that explores the actions and aims of the political parties on constitutional revision.

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On the evening of April 20, Seishiro Eto, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party’s Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters, came into the LDP secretary general’s office without an appointment.

“Secretary general, could you please come over now?” Eto said to Toshihiro Nikai, who was taking a break after meeting Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to talk about COVID-19 control measures.

Nikai then attended the headquarters’ general meeting along with two other top LDP officials: General Council Chairperson Tsutomu Sato and Policy Research Council Chairperson Hakubun Shimomura.

“Constitutional revision is very important,” Nikai said at the meeting, sensing Eto’s intention to have him there. “I want members to firmly proceed with discussions.”

After Nikai’s pep talk, Eto announced that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would serve as top adviser to the promotion headquarters, sparking an enthusiastic reaction from the gathering.

When Abe was prime minister, he constantly called for constitutional amendments over his seven years and eight months in office, which he left in September last year.

In 2018, the LDP drafted its four-point revision bill that includes the addition of legal grounds for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces and a state of emergency clause. Abe’s passion for constitutional amendment remains unchanged.

During an April 22 symposium in Tokyo, Abe sought to provoke Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano.

“Edano had said he would not discuss the Constitution while Shinzo Abe was prime minister,” Abe said. “I’m not the prime minister anymore, so I feel like he should discuss it already.”

However, current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who as chief cabinet secretary had long supported his predecessor Abe, has refrained from making remarks of any depth regarding the Constitution.

On his visit to Washington in April, Suga was forthright about the situation in an interview with U.S. magazine Newsweek published online.

“We have, in fact, tried to tackle the amendment of the Constitution several times, but must admit that the situation is very difficult,” Suga said. “So it will have to go through the parliamentary process and the Diet, and therefore it is not something that the government or the administration can easily change.”

The LDP’s campaign policy this year focuses on COVID-19 control, followed by Suga’s signature policies, such as creating a green society and digitization, with the revision of the Constitution mentioned at the end of the list, stating, “The party aims to have a draft revision be initiated by the Diet.”

The campaign policy in 2020 compiled when Abe was LDP president, advocated in the chapter that came right after the preamble, “Determination to amend the Constitution.”

“I don’t see Suga’s commitment regarding constitutional issues,” a former minister said.

Suga appears to be taking such comments into consideration. The prime minister appointed Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of the LDP faction Abe came from, as a chairperson of the House of Representatives’ Commission on the Constitution. Eto is also from the Hosoda faction.

Eto, right after assuming his post in October last year, said he would prepare to submit to the Diet the LDP’s four-point revision bill compiled in 2018 as a formal draft text. His remark was meant to activate the constitutional commissions and arouse public opinion.

The CDPJ fiercely protested, saying that if the LDP goes it alone, discussions on the Constitution can’t happen.

Eto’s remark thus resulted in giving the CDPJ a good excuse to delay the discussions on revising the National Referendum Law. The situation also perplexed Yoshitaka Shindo, head of the ruling coalition’s members in the commission. As a result, drafting of the text has been postponed. The motivations of those who support constitutional amendment went in circles.

A two-thirds majority is needed from each chamber of the Diet to put constitutional revision to a referendum. In the House of Councillors, voting along party lines will not attain the two-thirds threshold even if votes from the Democratic Party for the People, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and others who favor constitutional amendment are included. As Suga has said, the hurdle for constitutional amendment is high.

Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, takes the stance that the government should prioritize COVID-19 control.

“What the people want is not constitutional amendment, but coronavirus measures,” said a senior Komeito official.