EDITORIAL: Amending the Constitution is hidden focus of Upper House poll
（社説）参院選 論戦スタートへ 語られざる「改憲」を問う
The focus of attention in the political community has shifted to the July 10 Upper House election as the brouhaha over the consumption tax hike and the possibility of simultaneous Upper and Lower House elections has blown over.
Debate on key policy issues at the Diet was drowned out in the political noise in the final days of this year’s regular session.
What topics will Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other politicians address during their election campaigns?
Abe has cast his economic policy, or Abenomics, as the central issue of the election and expressed his intention to seek a public mandate for his recent decision to postpone the scheduled consumption tax increase.
Voters will naturally consider these issues at the polls. But they don’t have to focus only on the issues played up by the administration.
One important topic requires careful attention by voters although politicians are not eager to discuss it. That is constitutional amendments.
Abe has said his key target for the Upper House election is securing a two-thirds majority for his Liberal Democratic Party, its junior coalition partner, Komeito, and other parties willing to support his initiative to amend the Constitution.
If the target is reached, Abe will have a much better chance of proceeding with his plan to get the Diet to initiate constitutional amendments, through a concurring two-thirds vote of all the members of each chamber, for a national referendum on the proposed changes.
That will, of course, be the first actual attempt to rewrite the postwar Constitution under the formal procedures for amendments.
The question of whether to hand an overwhelming two-thirds majority in both chambers to the Abe administration and its political allies is the biggest issue of the upcoming election, even though it is overshadowed by debate on the economy.
The results of the election could put the nation at a major turning point in its postwar history.
FRESH DEBATE ON SECURITY LEGISLATION NEEDED
Let us look back on what happened in the Upper House, which is called “the Seat of Common Sense,” eight months ago.
At a Sept. 17 session of the special committee on the new national security legislation, committee members suddenly made a dash for the chairman’s seat, triggering a scuffle amid angry roars. From time to time, ruling camp lawmakers stood with both hands raised in response to cues. People watching the session on TV were clueless to what was occurring.
This ugly scene was how the package of security bills, which effectively revises the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, was actually enacted.
In June last year, three constitutional scholars told the Lower House Commission on the Constitution that the legislation is unconstitutional. Their comments led many lawmakers to subscribe to the view that the legislation violates the Constitution, causing a bitter division among the public.
The bills should have been carried over to the next Diet session for further debate. Instead of resorting to persuasion by reason, however, the Abe administration extended the session and used the power of a majority to engineer the forceful passage of the bills through the Diet in the face of strong opposition due to doubts about their constitutionality.
The July Upper House poll will offer a great opportunity for fresh debate on the legislation.
CHANGES IN STANCE BEFORE AND AFTER ELECTIONS
Since the beginning of this year, Abe has made clear his desire to embark on amending the Constitution after the Upper House election.
In January, he pledged in a Diet session to “create a new Constitution with our own hands.” The initiative “has entered the stage of a realistic possibility where discussions are to be held on which provisions should be amended,” he added.
In the recent one-on-one Diet debate with Katsuya Okada, president of the Democratic Party, Abe challenged the largest opposition bloc to come up with its own draft amendments to the Constitution, saying there could be no meaningful debate on the topic unless the opposition party did so.
Abe spoke as if changing the Constitution was a given.
In contrast, other senior LDP politicians are not eager to pursue constitutional amendments.
The LDP’s headquarters to promote constitutional amendments has yet to start considering which provisions should be revised. The Lower House Commission on the Constitution didn’t begin substantial debate on the question in the latest Diet session.
Behind its reluctance to wade into debate on the issue is the lack of solid public support to the initiative.
In an Asahi Shimbun survey, 55 percent of the respondents said there was no need to change the Constitution.
Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the LDP’s General Council, pretty much summed up the dominant sentiment within the ruling party when he said a single-minded pursuit of constitutional amendments would make it difficult for the party to win in the election.
In the past two national elections, the Abe administration focused its campaign on economic issues that have a direct bearing on people’s livelihoods. The administration is adopting the same campaign strategy for this poll.
But the administration drastically changed its political posturing after each of the past two elections.
We should not forget the fact that the administration forged ahead with the passage of the state secrets protection law and the security legislation, which both directly concern such basic principles of the Constitution as the people’s right to know and pacifism, after these past elections.
THE REAL AIM OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT INITIATIVE?
The Constitution, of course, will not be the only element voters will consider when they make their decisions at the polls in July. Policy issues that affect their daily lives are important factors for their choices that need to be weighed carefully.
Let us then examine the economic planks on the parties’ campaign platforms. There aren’t radical differences between the LDP’s vision of a society where 100 million people will play active roles and the Democratic Party’s vision of a “society of symbiosis.” Many parties are proposing more or less similar policies concerning such issues as growth and redistribution, the same wage for same work principle and reducing the number of children on waiting lists for day-care centers.
Given the massive budget deficit and the contraction of the working population, there cannot be wide differences between the ruling and opposition parties in these policies.
On the other hand, the LDP’s constitutional amendment agenda could radically affect certain values we have enjoyed in the postwar era, such as peace and freedom.
The LDP’s draft constitutional amendments are based on views that place the interests of the state before the freedom of individuals. Lurking at the heart of these views is a sentiment that is close to antipathy toward the human rights and individualism espoused by the current Constitution.
In referring to the LDP’s draft constitutional amendments in a June 1 news conference, Abe toned down his usual rhetoric.
“We are not seeking support from two-thirds (of the members of both chambers) for the initiative by promising to make these amendments,” he said.
If he secures an electoral victory, however, Abe may start saying the party has won a public mandate to promote the drafts.
If so, which provisions will he try to change for whatever reasons?
Even if Abe doesn’t talk about these questions, voters should ask, as many times as necessary, vital questions about his real stance toward the Constitution.