Shinzo Abe

LDP charter change will return Japan to pre-war authoritarianism, critics warn

Law professors fear the ruling party's plan to amend the 1946 constitution will restore authoritarian rule in Japan and stifle dissent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 2:34am

The changes that the Liberal Democratic Party is planning for Japan's constitution threaten citizens' rights, grant the government sweeping powers and, in places, verge on xenophobia, according to legal experts.

Some of the proposed changes to the constitution, introduced shortly after Imperial Japan was defeated in the second world war, are such an about-face that they indicate a desire to return to a time of authoritarian rulers and negligible internal dissent, critics of the plan say.

The Japan Civil Liberties Union warns that this was exactly the situation in the early decades of the previous century and was a direct cause of the descent into war.

"My guess is that their view of Japan is that it should be more like pre-war Japan of the early 1930s," said Masako Kamiya, a professor at the faculty of law at Gakushuin University and an expert on the legal freedom of expression.

My guess is that their view of Japan is that it should be more like pre-war Japan of the early 1930s

"I believe there are a number of LDP members who share the view that it was not such a bad time, that there were some good things in that era," she said. "That society was harmonised, young people behaved themselves and respected their elders, that order was kept as defined by the government and authorities."

The JCLU has a number of other concerns about what would be the first change to Japan's constitution since the supreme law's promulgation under Allied occupation in November 1946.

The LDP's overwhelming victory in December's general election has given the party and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the opportunity to rewrite the constitution - a demand that it has made consistently since the party was founded in 1955.

And with the support of allied and like-minded parties in the Diet, or parliament, analysts believe that fully 82 per cent of politicians in the lower house would vote in favour of the changes.

That would only leave the upper house to approve of the legislation, they point out. At present, Abe can call on around 50 per cent of the upper house, but he is riding high in the polls and is predicted to fare well in elections in the summer that will enable him to push ahead with his plans.

Abe has already stated that his first step in the process of rewriting the constitution will be to scrap the requirement for two- thirds of politicians to support the changes, and reduce this requirement to a simple majority.

After that has been achieved, the changes to the constitution itself would include deleting Article 97, which guarantees fundamental human rights, impose a duty on the public to display "respect for the national flag and the national hymn", place restrictions on free speech, enable the prime minister to declare a state of emergency and elevate the unclear concept of "public order" over the rights of individual citizens.

"It is very clear from this document that their world vision is detached from the more common understanding of fundamental human rights," said Lawrence Repeta, a professor of law at Meiji University.

"We are coming into a period in which the world is more awake to the concept of human rights, but the LDP seems to be saying that is wrong and that they do not want to be a part of that," Repeta said.

"They are saying the constitution should be based on Japanese culture and Japanese history. Overall, this is more about government power over the people and reduced protection for individual rights."