Abe Constitution Push Injects Divisive Issue Into Election Fight

  • Wants progress on changes to pacifist document in autumn
  • Ruling coalition sought economic focus for upper house poll

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants progress on amending Japan’s pacifist constitution in the upcoming parliamentary session, rekindling the divisive issue ahead of next month’s upper house elections.

Abe said in a televised debate Sunday that he hoped the Diet panel considering the topic could make headway during the expected autumn session. His comments came in response to questions from opposition lawmakers at the forum hosted by internet broadcaster Niconico Douga.

While polls indicate that Abe’s ruling coalition will win the July 10 election, his majority could be hurt by a focus on constitutional change. Attachment runs deep to the U.S.-imposed document, which has helped keep the country’s forces from firing a shot in battle for almost seven decades. Parliament’s passage of legislation last year to expand the role of Japan’s military amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the region sparked a series of huge demonstrations in Tokyo.

Abe has instead presented the election as an opportunity for voters to decide whether he should press ahead with his economic policy program known as "Abenomics." The prime minister emphasized successes such as the increasing number of jobs per applicant, while acknowledging that the picture wasn’t all rosy.

Part-Way Along

"We are still part-way along," he said Sunday. "I honestly acknowledge that our policies haven’t been enough."

Main opposition Democratic Party leader Katsuya Okada said Sunday that, while the weaker yen achieved by record monetary easing had created favorable employment conditions, the recent rise in the currency meant that Abenomics had "hit a wall."

A poll by the Yomiuri newspaper published Monday showed support for Abe’s cabinet at 49 percent, down from 53 percent in a poll two weeks earlier. A separate survey in the Mainichi newspaper put approval at 42 percent, down from 49 percent.

Sixty-one percent of respondents to the Mainichi poll said Abenomics should be rethought, compared with 23 percent who said the government should press ahead with the program.

In the debates, Abe repeatedly underscored the difficulty of changing Japan’s constitution, which needs a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament before a required referendum can be held. While his ruling Liberal Democratic Party prepared a draft of a new top law during its time in opposition -- including changes to the pacifist Article 9 -- he said this was unlikely to be enacted unchanged and would probably undergo "considerable alteration."

The legislation passed last year was based on a reinterpretation of the existing constitution.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.