LDP puts off presenting Constitutional amendment plan to Diet

Japan's Diet closed its final session of 2018 on December 10th. For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it may have been somewhat disappointing end to the year.

Abe and the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party had to put off plans to proceed on a Constitutional amendment in the fall Diet session. But he has indicated that he has no intention of abandoning his long-standing goal.

Heading into the fall session, Abe apparently had high hopes on making progress on an amendment.

He was fresh off winning another 3-year term as party leader in September, which put him on track to become the country's longest serving prime minister.

And more than two-thirds of both Houses already were in favor of an amendment, the level of support needed to start a revision process.

Many were keeping an eye on the process to see if Abe would be able to make any progress.

But in the end, he wasn't able to.

Article 9 and the Self-Defense Forces

Japan's Constitution stipulates the renunciation of war

The current Constitution has not been amended since taking effect in 1947. It is known for Article 9, which states "the Japanese people forever renounce war." It prohibits the country from maintaining forces with the potential to wage war.

The government interprets this to mean that the country has the right to possess the minimum level of armed forces needed to exercise the country's right to self-defense.

But some legal experts say the Self-Defense Forces--formed in 1954 during the Cold War--violates Article 9. This has led some to say it needs to be revised.

Ideas for amendments

There are two steps to amend the Constitution. First, it needs to get more than two-thirds support from both Houses. Second, it has to gain a simple majority in a national referendum.

This March, the LDP compiled a new report on a possible amendment, saying the Constitution needs to be changed so the country can better cope with severe security situations and disasters. It included 4 issues that the LDP lawmakers said an amendment should address. At the top of the list was changing the Constitution so that it clearly stipulates the existence of the SDF.

"We politicians are responsible for creating an environment in which all SDF personnel can proudly fulfill their duties," Abe said. "To live up to this duty, we must put 'protecting Japan's peace and independence' and the term 'Self-Defense Forces' in the Constitution."

Not putting the plan on the table

Abe and the LDP decided not to take any steps this year. There were a couple of reasons for this.

One was that the Diet session was dominated by the controversial bill to allow more foreign workers in the country, which was recently passed.

Another was that the junior ruling coalition partner, Komeito, was reluctant to proceed.

"Political agendas are packed next year," Komeito Chief Representative Natsuo Yamaguchi said at a November 26th meeting. "Nationwide local elections, the Upper House election, and the abdication of the Emperor. And the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are the following year. It's difficult to find the time to forge an agreement on the issue of the Constitutional amendment."

LDP lawmakers may have considered it too risky to go ahead with the amendment without the support of its junior partner.

Furthermore, the opposition bloc was unified against Abe making any changes.

"Prime Minister Abe officially said he will present the LDP's amendment plan to the Diet panel," Japanese Communist Party chair Kazuo Shii told reporters. "Forcing him to give up this plan is a major achievement by the opposition's united front."

Nonetheless, Abe says he remains determined.

"I've said that I want to see a Constitutional amendment take effect in 2020. I said this to encourage and promote discussion among the public. This idea has not changed."