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Upcoming Japan poll may open door to constitutional change

Pro-revision bloc heading for supermajority in lower house

TOKYO -- More than two-thirds of lawmakers in Japan's next lower house could favor revising the country's constitution, polling by The Nikkei shows.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the conservative opposition Japan Innovation Party and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, have all included altering the constitution in their platforms for the Oct. 22 election. While Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, would like to keep current provisions as they are, the party is amenable to adding new text to the charter.

Before the lower house was dissolved for the coming race, the LDP held 290 seats and Komeito 34, together exceeding the two-thirds supermajority needed to propose changes to the constitution. According to a poll conducted by Nikkei Research on Tuesday and Wednesday, LDP and Komeito candidates appear on track to win more than 290 seats. Adding projected winners from the Party of Hope and the Japan Innovation Party would give the bloc favoring constitutional revision more than 310, or two-thirds, of the lower house seats.

Back on track

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in May said he intended to have a revised constitution in place by 2020. Changes would include enshrining Japan's Self-Defense Forces in the constitution's Article 9, which renounces war. But the LDP's stinging loss in July's Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race significantly diminished Abe's standing within his party, and the timeline was scrapped. In a television appearance Tuesday, the prime minister insisted that holding a "national debate" on revision is more important than sticking to a particular schedule.

Pro-revisionists' success at the polls later this month could put altering the charter back among Abe's top agenda items. "In the end, bringing the opposition into the discussion would be quicker than having the LDP and Komeito go it alone," a source close to the prime minister said.

But while the bulk of the next parliament will likely favor revision in principle, agreeing on details may not be easy. Hope's Koike has expressed skepticism about writing the SDF into Article 9, reasoning that singling out the forces without referencing the Ministry of Defense could effectively make the latter subsidiary to the former. Komeito's platform claims that "many Japanese do not view the SDF as unconstitutional," implying little need to recognize the forces explicitly.

Public pushback

A strong liberal showing could bolster opposition to that change. The Constitutional Democratic Party, formed by left-leaning members of the Democratic Party when many of their peers joined Hope, could take more than 40 seats, but the Japanese Communist Party will likely have trouble defending the 21 seats it held previously. The two parties are against any revision of Article 9 and oppose controversial national security legislation passed in 2015.

The public seems to be of a similar mind. Only 35% of respondents to the Nikkei poll agreed that the SDF should be written into Article 9, while 42% opposed such a change. The split was 44% in favor to 42% opposed among men, and 42% opposed to 28% in favor among women. Supporters outnumbered opponents among younger respondents. This balance flips among those aged 40 and above.

Supporters of the LDP favored such a revision 60% to 19%. Komeito voters did as well, though by a slimmer margin of 40% to 32%. CDP supporters overwhelmingly rejected the change, with 81% opposed and just 9% in favor. Hope supporters also opposed the change 61% to 23%.


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