Shinzo Abe

Despite victory in upper house elections, Abe does not have mandate to revise constitution

Much as the Japanese prime minister would like to change his country’s pacifist charter, he knows well that it would antagonise neighbours

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 11:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 11:07pm

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now has the two-thirds majority needed in parliament to initiate changes to the constitution. He has spoken often of the need to ditch the nation’s American-drafted laws with domestically written ones and that opportunity presents itself after Sunday’s overwhelming victory in upper house polls. A much-stated priority is altering the pacifist document to allow a more assertive military posture. But that would be a mistake as it is widely opposed by voters who know only too well it would detrimentally inflame tensions with China and the Koreas.

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Abe also knows that, which is why during campaigning he focused on economic issues. It is a ploy he has used previously; his main order of business after winning the last upper house elections was a state secrets law, while victory in lower house polls in December 2014 was followed by pushing through a security bill that allows Japanese troops to fight overseas. A founding principle of his Liberal Democratic Party, the leading partner with Komeito in the governing coalition, is for Japan to move beyond its wartime past and be a strong, independent nation. The prime minister’s plans to turn the country’s self-defence forces into a fully fledged military fit that agenda.

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But Komeito is wary of amending the constitution and opinion polls consistently show only a third of Japanese support revision. Both houses of parliament would have to pass a motion with a two-thirds majority and then it would have to gain the approval of 50 per cent of voters in a referendum. That does not deter Abe, though; after polls closed, he said that a review commission would determine the scope of changes. The

war-renouncing Article 9, which prevents Japan from using force to settle international disputes, is at the heart of the matter.

Abe put the win down to his economic policies. That may be so, but only 54 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote. That is hardly an endorsement for constitutional change. Debate is inevitable, but pushing a nationalist agenda that will further alienate neighbours is not in the interests of Japan or the region.