September 13, 2017 6:47 am JST

Japan's LDP struggles for consensus on amending constitution

Ruling party faces rifts over revising war-renouncing Article 9

Yasuoka Okiharu, head of the Liberal Democratic Party's constitutional reform headquarters, speaks Sept. 12 at a meeting of the party's leaders.

TOKYO -- Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has resumed talks on amending the constitution's war-renouncing Article 9, aiming to submit a proposal to parliament this fall, but opinions remain sharply divided within the party and beyond.

Discussions were suspended briefly due to a cabinet and party leadership reshuffle in August. But the new LDP leaders met here Tuesday to restart the dialogue.

"A thorough debate within the party will help us gain the public's understanding," Fumio Kishida, the LDP's policy research chair, told reporters afterward.

But getting everyone on the same page will be no easy task. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also holds the post of LDP president, wants simply to add a reference to Japan's Self-Defense Forces to Article 9 and leave the article's existing language as is.

Others in the party argue that Abe's proposal would directly contradict the existing clause that stipulates Japan shall not maintain "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential." In a 2012 proposal for a revised constitution, the LDP had suggested replacing the clause in question with a new section regarding Japan's defensive forces.

Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba noted during Tuesday's meeting that the party lacked a standard definition for the "right of belligerency," which Article 9 also bans.

"Without removing or revising [the clause against maintaining armed forces], the LDP's conservative supporters will not give us their support," Seishiro Eto, former vice speaker of the Diet's lower house, said as well.

At the next meeting, LDP leadership plans to devise the specific wording of a proposed amendment in line with Abe's suggestion. Ishiba objected to this idea Tuesday. "I cannot agree with simply settling on something without having the necessary discussions," he said.

Initiating a motion to amend the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Diet.

"With the lower house election coming up within the next year and a half, we are not in a place to start the process," Tetsuo Saito, acting secretary-general of LDP partner Komeito, said on television Tuesday. "Our efforts will inevitably fail if the ruling coalition initiates the motion on our own" without broader support.

The leading opposition Democratic Party also remains extremely cautious toward the idea of amending the constitution.

(Nikkei)

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