Changing Japan's Constitution Would Deter North Korea, Lawmaker Says

  • Senior LDP lawmaker wants election promise to change top law
  • Masahiko Shibayama speaks in interview with Bloomberg

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party should make it an election pledge to change the nation’s pacifist constitution as a way to strengthen deterrence against North Korea’s provocations, a senior party lawmaker said.

In an interview on Tuesday, Masahiko Shibayama said the party should campaign for a possible election next month on revising the pacifist Article 9 of the constitution. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to change it to make clear the legitimacy of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. 

"We can’t permit North Korea to keep making threats and ignoring the rules. We need a deterrent for those threats," said Shibayama, 51. "We should add a promise to revise the constitution to the party’s manifesto as a part of developing a security framework."

Shibayama, the deputy director-general of a party group on constitutional revision and adviser to LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, said deterrence toward North Korea would likely become an issue in a general election expected next month. Abe is set to announce the dissolution of parliament for a snap poll, possibly on October 22, at a press conference on Monday, local media have reported.

Read here about a potential general election

North Korea’s recent spate of missile and nuclear tests has unnerved Japanese voters and more than two-thirds of respondents to an NHK poll last week approve of Abe’s strong line on the isolated nation. Another reason why Abe may call an election is that the main opposition Democratic Party appears to be unraveling with the resignation of several members since a new leader was voted in earlier this month.

Seiji Maehara, the new head of the Democratic Party, said Sunday that an election at a time when North Korea is threatening Japan risks creating a political vacuum, and that Abe was seeking to escape questions from lawmakers on a series of cronyism scandals.

Longstanding Goal

Rewriting the constitution has been a longstanding goal of the LDP whose original members -- including Abe’s grandfather, who was a prime minister -- saw the document as a U.S. imposition that humiliated Japan after World War II. Article 9 of that law renounces the right to war and prohibits land, sea and air forces. Yet trying to change it also carries risks. The public is divided on the issue and some members of Abe’s own party don’t support it.

The ambiguous constitutional status of the Self-Defense Forces has resulted in arcane debates over limits on their role. A study by consultant Deloitte found that Japan as a result had the least aggressive defense posture of 18 Asia-Pacific nations it compared this year, based on seven parameters, such as military spending as a proportion of the economy.

Any constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, followed by a referendum. In an October election, it would be crucial for Abe’s ruling coalition to retain this "supermajority" in the lower chamber.

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