Linda Sieg –
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has achieved much of his conservative security agenda since taking office in 2012 but unless he can revive his flagging popularity, his goal of revising the pacifist constitution is likely to elude his grasp.
Failure to achieve that goal by the 2020 target he announced three months ago would erode Abe’s already weakened clout, dimming his chances of becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, lawmakers in his own Liberal Democratic Party said.
“Abe is filled with a desire to do this. He thinks revising the constitution is his greatest mission as a politician… but can he really?” LDP lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa said.
“To fail to achieve it would mean huge damage to Abe as a politician,” said Hirasawa, who once privately tutored Abe.
Abe’s second term as LDP leader ends in September 2018 and his support has plunged to below 30 per cent in some polls.
That is the lowest since Abe returned to power almost five years ago with a conservative agenda of reviving traditional values and loosening limits on the military that centred on amending the pacifist post-war constitution.
The decline has spurred talk that Abe may call a snap election before the year’s end, even if that means risking the two-thirds super-majority needed to amend the constitution.
A general election does not need to be held until late 2018 but the main opposition Democratic Party is in disarray after its leader abruptly resigned and a novice local party led by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has yet to become a national force.
“The goal would be to keep a majority and maintain the LDP government,” veteran LDP lawmaker Takeshi Noda said.
Abe’s proposal to clarify the military’s ambiguous status by revising the constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 would be hugely symbolic in Japan.
Many conservatives see the US-drafted charter as a humiliating imposition, while opponents to change view it as the basis of Japan’s peace and democracy.
Any revision would spur concern in China, where memories of Japan’s past military aggression persist.
Article 9 technically bans the maintenance of armed forces but has been interpreted by successive Japanese governments to allow the Self-Defence Forces, as the military is known, for exclusively defensive purposes.
Historic changes enacted in 2015 expanded that to allow for limited collective self-defence, or aiding an ally under attack.
Backers of Abe’s proposed revision say it would simply formalise those stances, although critics worry it would set the stage for further loosening restrictions, such as fighting in US-led wars abroad.
Formally amending the constitution is a politically tough task requiring approval by two-thirds of both houses of parliament and a majority of voters in a public referendum.
The ruling bloc now holds two-thirds majorities in both chambers, a rare situation that is unlikely to be repeated soon.
Abe has achieved several goals on the security front including creating a US-style National Security Council, passing a state secrets act and 2015’s reinterpretation of the constitution.
But formally revising the constitution is Abe’s most cherished goal, in part because it eluded his beloved grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who quit as premier in 1960 due to a furore over a US-Japan security pact.
Abe may cling to his the long-held goal in public but let it quietly drop in reality.
“He cannot achieve constitutional revision,” said veteran political analyst Minoru Morita said. “It is an illusion.”
Linda Sieg –