Elections in Japan to 124 seats of the House of Councilors were held on July 21. Though the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner Komeito, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Shinzo retained control of the Upper House, Abe’s hope of obtaining a super-majority (two-thirds), a key threshold, remained unfulfilled. The ruling coalition partners secured a total of 141 seats, a figure that fell short of initiating Abe’s long-cherished aim of enacting legislation to revise the pacifist Constitution that has remained in force ever since it was ‘imposed’ and promulgated by the United States in 1947 after the Second World War.
This analysis of post-election results focuses only on one specific issue, that is the possibility of amending the country’s pacifist Constitution, though there were other pressing domestic issues that were equally important variables in determining the voters’ choice of candidates. Such issues such as the need to revamp the country’s sluggish economy, raising the country’s birthrate and drastically increasing the proportion of women in management and politics, increase in funding for child-care to encourage more women and older people to work, raising the previously scheduled consumption tax rate from the current 8 per cent to 10 per cent in October 2019 were equally important in determining the voters’ choice of legislators.
Five major Opposition parties have unanimously expressed their objection to the plan. The future of the pension system is another burning issue that confronts Abe.
But his biggest priority is to enact measures to change the country’s pacifist Constitution. With the pro-amendment camp losing the two-third majority, the task only gets tougher for Abe. Though the ruling coalition, Nippon Ishin, plus other lawmakers in favour of changing the Constitution, secured a total of 160 seats, that still fell short of 164, or a super majority in the House. Abe needs the level of support in both houses of the Diet to put a Constitutional amendment proposal to a national referendum. Yet, a buoyant Abe still justified the outcome of the elections even after failing to achieve a super-majority on the reasoning that the people want political stability, which emboldens him to buttress his political and diplomatic agenda. He intends to hold discussions with lawmakers on the issue of constitutional amendment and thus garner the support of twothirds of the legislators.
This could well be at the top of Abe’s wish-list, but the path does not look easy. This is because the leader of the largest opposition entity, the Constitutional Democratic Party, Yukio Edano, is anxious to enhance cooperation within the Opposition bloc and frustrate Abe’s plan for a debate on the constitutional revision issue.
A fact that is less known and written about is that before any serious attempt is made by the Abe government to garner support of two-thirds of the lawmakers on the issue of constitutional amendment, a fresh look is needed to deal with Article 96 of the Constitution. Article 96 is a clause in the national Constitution of Japan that specifies the process of making amendments. The Constitution has remained unchanged since coming into effect on May 3, 1947, and many politicians are calling for a revision of Article 96 so that they can begin revising other, more central Articles such as Article 9.
The full text of Article 96 is: “Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of twothirds 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 thereon at a special referendum or at such election as the Diet shall specify. Amendments when so ratified shall immediately be promulgated by the Emperor in the name of the people, as an integral part of this Constitution”.
Though many Japanese have advocated revisions to numerous articles, they have been unable to gain the support of two-thirds (a supermajority) of both Houses of the National Diet (House of Councillors/Upper House and House of Representatives/Lower House), let alone the simple majority of the Japanese electorate in the subsequent referendum as required by Article 96. As such, the arguments made by the proponents of revision have set their sights on Article 96, hoping to revise it so that amendments no longer require a supermajority in the Diet.
The primary motive behind the revision of Article 96 appears to be the revision of Article 9, which “renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation” and promises that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”. Prime Minister Abe, a vocal proponent of revising Article 96, stated that “it is unfair that just more than one-third of lawmakers could block revisions even if 50 per cent or more of the public want to amend the Constitution”. Given that the ruling coalition controls both the Houses of the Diet for the first time in nearly a decade, optimists say that Abe has a fair chance to succeed. But that could be putting the cart before the horse so long as Komeito would be unwilling to endorse LDP’s stance. Moreover, given the strong anti-nuclear sentiment of the people of the country, especially after the triple disaster of March 2011, Abe is most likely to lose the national referendum even if it is held.
Japan’s immediate neighbours ~ China and the Koreas ~ could be rejoicing that Abe’s aim to revise the Constitution remains in limbo and would be happy that this remains unrealized. The shadow of history still continues to haunt and any possibility of Japan becoming a normal state could cause a nightmare to those nations that suffered the brutality of Japan’s military during the Second World War.
There are fears that instead of addressing the issue of Japan’s security, it would destabilize the region. The consequences could be nightmarish and perilous for the Indo-Pacific region in the larger perspective.