The 257th "Foreign Policy Luncheon" meeting on “Trends and Prospects of Japan's Constitutional Amendments" Held

JFIR and its two sister organizations, the Global Forum of Japan and the Council on East Asian Community monthly organizes a "Foreign Policy Luncheon" meeting to provide an occasion for members of the three organizations to meet in an informal and confidential manner with senior officials of the Japanese Government and/or other experts and specialists in fields related to international relations. The 257th "Foreign Policy Luncheon" meeting on the topic of "Trends and Prospects of Japan's Constitutional Amendments" was held on 25 July 2013. The keynote speaker was NISHI Osamu, Professor Emeritus, Komazawa University. His views are as follows.

Several myths about the Japanese Constitution
The Japanese Constitution is often referred to as "the only constitution in the world that embraces pacifism." However, as I made a comparative study of the constitutions of the world, 158 out of 188 countries have a constitution with articles upholding some sort of pacifism such as promotion of peace policy or rejection of wars of aggression. Thus it is obvious that the Japanese constitution is not the "only" one which provides pacifism in the world. Of the articles of the constitutions of 100 countries established between 1990 and 2012, while 56% uphold "right to know" and 90% uphold "environmental right," 98% uphold "pacifism." As all of these constitutions of the 100 countries including those with peace articles contain the provision on national emergency, it is a common knowledge of the world that peace articles and national emergency articles should come in pairs. Besides, most of them provide obligations of national defense and military service. The Japanese Constitution, with its difficulty to amend, is the fourteenth oldest of the 188 countries, and therefore one of the "oldest" in the world. It is in fact no longer appropriate to call it the "New Constitution." On the other hand, Germany, although it is differently circumstanced as its federal-state relative clauses require frequent constitutional amendments, have amended its constitution 59 times, whereas France have amended its 1958 constitution 24 times with major alteration being made of its 47 articles in 2008. Incidentally, it should be remembered that at the National Diet of Japan on August 24, 1946, NOSAKA Sanzo of Japanese Communist Party made a speech in opposition to the pacifism in the constitution saying that "pacifism is a dead letter" and as it "rules out the right of self-defense it jeopardizes the national independence." As for amendments, some people point out that they are more difficult in the US constitution than in the Japanese constitution, but it is against the fact. The two-thirds majority vote in Congress as provided in the US means two-thirds of the members present. Combined with a fact that the Congress has a quorum for half of the whole members, amendments could in fact be proposed by one-third of the whole members. Meanwhile in Germany, as amendments require two-thirds majority vote in both houses, once a two-thirds approving votes are gained, there will be no need of a further step of referendum.

Precursory Amendment of Article 96 and Exercise of Popular Sovereignty
As a result of the latest election of the House of Councilors, support of the 20 seats of Komeito is now indispensable to secure two-thirds approving vote in the House. According to the opinion-poll, while there has been a wide-ranging support of constitutional amendments at large, measured opinions are prevalent specially on amendment of Article 96, a clause specifying the process for making amendments, and Komeito is also against it. I personally see no problem in precursory amendment of Article 96. The reason is that the popular sovereignty as provided by the Japanese Constitution, under present circumstances, has no chance to be exercised except exercising suffrage. Under the circumstances, only one additional vote to one-third opposition votes to amendment in each House could be barrier to referendum which is a form of exercise of the popular sovereignty.The question is how to tap the "national" will. Exercise of sovereignty by the people should be recovered so that the true purpose of the popular sovereignty is duly served. Besides, as a result of multifaceted considerations being given to pass the National Referendum Law in 2007, numerous additional clauses are attached to the Law. Among them, especially "the three questions" are still left unaddressed. They are lowering the voting age to 18, restriction of political movement by civil servants and expansion of the scope of referendum besides constitutional amendments. I personally think the voting age should not be immediately lowered to 18, and the other two questions should also be continuously studied.

Other Important Points for Amendment
Firstly, as for amendment of Article 9, while Komeito approves of "Self-Defense Forces," it is against "Defense Forces." Question is how Prime Minister ABE could successfully bring them around. Secondly, as for "the national emergency articles" proposed in the draft of constitutional revisions prepared by LDP, it would generate controversy as it contains temporary restriction or suspension of human rights. When it comes to "reform of the governing structure" proposed by Your Party and Japan Restoration Party, the unicameral system, the direct election of the prime minister and the administrative reform proposal including integration of prefectures states (regional sovereignty), would be the principal contention. I am skeptical about the direct election of the prime minister as it might lead to populism. I also have some concern about the phrase, regional "sovereignty." Ways in which national and local governments cooperate must be carefully devised, otherwise the state would only fall apart. Lastly, as for "adding articles to the Constitution instead of amending it" proposed by Komeito, the idea still remains abstract so the party should come up with concrete proposals of actual articles to be discussed. Besides, the "pro-Constitution" elements in mass media such as Asahi and Mainichi wields enormous influence. How to counter them and to appeal to the public is the question. Given that constitutional amendments should be subject to referendum, it would be more realistic to address it by setting priorities according to the issues concerned instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach. Also, as for the exercise of right to collective self-defense, it is reported that the Council on Legal Bases of Security Policy will be called in August and the constitutional interpretations are expected to be modified in this autumn. This would be an important step to secure credibility of the Japan-US alliance.

(JFIR secretariat is responsible for this article)

The Japan Forum on International Relations (JFIR)