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Politics

Japan's ruling party to start with low-hanging fruit

TOKYO -- Japan's Liberal Democratic Party plans to start with environmental rights and other uncontentious issues in moving to rewrite the nation's pacifist charter, leaving big prizes for later.

     The LDP on Thursday drew up a list of priorities for charter amendment, including upgrading the Self-Defense Forces to a full army and easing the requirements for constitutional changes. It plans to submit the first motion to the parliament after the upper house election in the summer of 2016.

     "Revising Article 9 and other provisions is a priority, but it's not something we can tackle without significant preparations," said Hajime Funada, who heads the LDP committee on constitutional reforms, referring to the no-war pledge in the charter. "The best thing to do would be to make those proposals in the second round or later, after laying the appropriate groundwork."

     His caution is warranted. The LDP must first find common ground with the political opposition, since it needs support from two-thirds of both houses to pass the Diet motion for any constitutional amendments.

     Funada sees three possible areas of compromise across party lines -- making the government responsible in preserving the environment; defining the government's and Diet's powers during natural disasters and other emergencies; and requiring the government to maintain fiscal discipline. He hopes to raise those issues, which will likely gain easy public support, in the first round.

     Remaining priorities include amending Article 96 so that only a simple majority will be needed to pass constitutional amendments through the Diet, rather than the current two-thirds requirement. It is also eyeing a new law designating the emperor as Japan's head of state.

     The LDP will start deliberations with the opposition in a parliamentary committee as early as next month, and will submit the motion to the Diet once major parties reach an agreement. Once the draft amendment passes both houses, it must gain at least 50% of the votes in a resulting national referendum.

     While the LDP won the 2013 upper house elections, it does not even have a simple majority with just 114 seats. Even with coalition partner Komeito, as well as the relatively supportive Japan Innovation Party and the Party for Future Generations, it likely won't reach the two-thirds majority it needs.

     The fate of the process thus rests on next year's upper house election, which could give "pro-amendment" forces a two-thirds majority.

     The LDP won the lower house elections last year by a landslide on a platform heavily focused on the economy. But if the constitution becomes the central issue next year, it could suffer a devastating loss as it did in the 2007 upper house elections, warns a party official.

     "We will work to gain the people's understanding as we move toward revising the constitution," LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada told the press on Thursday.

(Nikkei)

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