The Japanese pacifist constitution prohibits Japan from waging war. This restriction will be removed if the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has his way. And he is likely to succeed come the 21 July national election for the Upper House of the Japanese Diet (parliament).
Abe’s government is riding high in polls since his Liberal Democratic Party election win in late December 2012. His government now controls more than 2/3rds of the lower house. After 21 July elections he is likely to have 2/3rds support in the Upper House. On a 2/3rds majority vote in each house the constitution can be amended in the Diet. A majority vote of the Japanese people in a referendum is also required. But the crucial first step for Abe is amending the constitution in the Diet.
Abe’s goal is to amend Article 9 of the constitution, the pacifist provision. Article 9 proclaims that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes”. Abe has avoided amendment specifics.
Abe’s tactic is first to amend Article 96. It states “amendments to this constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each house and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast, at a referendum or at special election such as the diet shall specify”. Abe’s first step is to reduce Article 96 requirement to a simple majority in each house – to make it easy to amend the constitution in the Diet in the future.
Abe can then take the next step to amend Article 9 in the Diet. On Abe’s agenda is a proposed change to Article 9 to enable Japan to engage in “collective self defence”. Many high placed American defence and former government spokesmen have publicly urged Japan’s engagement in collective self defence. For obvious reasons, it is the United States self interests for Japan to join the US in its wars.
Japan has resisted to-date based on Article 9. Abe has made reference to the UN when speaking about constitutional amendment. His position will be to argue a collective self defence amendment of Article 9 is in line with the UN charter, Article 51, which affirms the right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations. But is it a good reason to amend Article 9?
Media polls are indicating support for constitutional amendment, but it’s far from clear what precise amendments are supported. If a poll question on collective self defence was put to the Japanese people, “Do you want your sons and daughters to fight for America in its wars”, one would expect a resounding no.
With most media supporting constitutional change, and Abe’s constitutional amendments rammed through the Diet, how will the Japanese people vote? How will they become informed on the implications of amendments? These are the big questions facing the 21 July election and a referendum. At present, a lack of information and debate exists in Japan on these issues.
John Woodward is an Australian lawyer resident in Japan