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Politics

Japan's ruling coalition divided on constitutional amendment

Junior partner Komeito skirts the debate in new campaign platform

| Japan

TOKYO -- Komeito, the junior partner of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has avoided taking a clear position on amending the constitution in its campaign platform for the upcoming race for the Diet's lower house.

In its platform published Thursday, Komeito promised free private high school for families earning less than 5.9 million yen ($52,300) a year and free care for children up to the age of 5 by 2019. It also pledged to introduce tax relief on daily necessities at the same time as a consumption tax hike currently slated for October 2019.

It spent a full page on the debate over constitutional amendments. The LDP is looking to add a reference to the Self-Defense Forces in the charter in an attempt to dispel concerns over the constitutionality of the forces. Komeito said the ruling party's position was "understandable," but argued that much of the public already supports the SDF's activities without such language. It called instead for Japan to focus on carrying out activities allowed by security legislation that went into effect last year.

During the 2014 race, Komeito pledged to reference the SDF as a minimal armed force within the constitution. It is taking a more cautious approach this time because "the new security legislation set limits on self-defense activities, so there is less need to have it in the constitution," a Komeito official said.

The Japanese public is deeply divided on the issue. Many inside Komeito are concerned that forcing an amendment through would weaken the government. Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist group that backs the party, is also ambivalent on the idea.

The LDP has only recently begun to debate the finer points of a possible amendment, and Komeito wants to wait until its senior partner solidifies its position. "We will not intervene in the LDP's discussions," Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi said.

Some opposition parties, like the Japan Innovation Party and Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, are more supportive. Komeito worries that depending on the outcome of the upcoming election, proponents of a constitutional amendment could advance the debate on their own.

"Even if the Party of Hope becomes the leading opposition party, that doesn't mean the public is more open to a constitutional amendment," a Komeito official said, warning the LDP against rash actions.

(Nikkei)

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