Japan ruling parties postpone constitutional amendment

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The first meeting of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution is held Nov. 29, absent members of opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun The Liberal Democratic Party has decided to give up on presenting a four-item draft for constitutional revisions, which includes adding a clause stipulating the legal basis for the Self-Defense Forces, during the current Diet session.

The decision makes it difficult for the party to initiate constitutional amendment by next summer’s House of Councillors election, which is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal.

On Wednesday, the ruling coalition accepted a call from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and other opposition parties to postpone a meeting of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution on Thursday, the last day scheduled for the commission to gather during the current Diet session. The major opposition parties had reacted sharply against the use of authority by Eisuke Mori of the LDP, chairman of the commission, to hold the panel’s previous meeting on Nov. 29.

Former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, who serves as the commission’s head director representing the ruling bloc, and Ikuo Yamahana of the CDPJ, who holds the same post for the opposition bloc, held talks at the Diet on Wednesday.

Shindo apologized for exercising the authority to hold a commission meeting without an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties. Yamahana called for postponing Thursday’s meeting, and Shindo decided to accept the request after discussing it with LDP’s ruling coalition partner Komeito and other parties.

“We will deepen discussions in a calm environment. We made a decision after considering whether it would help create such an environment,” Shindo told reporters at the Diet.

Priority was apparently given to consideration for the opposition camp, with an eye on the management of the commission during the ordinary Diet session next year.

The LDP’s draft for constitutional revisions consists of clauses on four items: the stipulation of the legal grounds for the SDF; handling of emergency situations; the elimination of merged constituencies in House of Councillors elections; and the improvement of education. The LDP had aimed at presenting the draft to the commission during the current Diet session.

The party will now aim at presenting it during the ordinary Diet session next year. However, it has become difficult for the LDP to compile the opinions of each party and propose constitutional amendment in the Diet before the upper house election, which is scheduled for next summer.

‘Special mission’ backfires

During a speech in August, Abe stressed, “We must accelerate coordination to make it possible for the party’s draft to be submitted to the next Diet session.”

In the party’s leadership reshuffle in October, Abe removed those who had long taken the lead in managing the commission and appointed Hakubun Shimomura, with whom he has close ties, as chief of the Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision of the Constitution. He also picked Shindo as a candidate for head director of the lower house’s Commission on the Constitution.

The two LDP lawmakers’ eagerness to achieve the “special mission” entrusted to them by the prime minister backfired. On Nov. 9, Shimomura criticized some opposition members reluctant to discuss constitutional reform for “walking off the job.” Shindo took the lead in holding a meeting of the commission on Nov. 29 to select directors at the authority of the commission’s chairman.

These actions drew strong fire from the opposition bloc, giving the CDPJ, the Democratic Party for the People and other parties, which have been against debate on constitutional revision, an excuse to refuse to hold a commission meeting.

Furthermore, Komeito, which kept in step with the LDP on this issue, has clearly shown a cautious attitude. Komeito Secretary General Tetsuo Saito said, “An environment that includes the opposition parties is important.”

With the current Diet session ending on Monday, the LDP appears to have concluded that it cannot push too far at the risk of creating a rift between the LDP and Komeito, according to a senior member of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee.

The opposition camp then gained momentum. A senior CDPJ member who opposes constitutional amendment under the Abe Cabinet said, “Everything turned out as we wished.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, criticized the LDP, saying, “It’s disappointing that sincere discussions based on an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties didn’t happen because of the [LDP’s] own goal.”

The LDP hopes to make a fresh start to hold discussions on the issue during next year’s ordinary Diet session. However, priority will be given to deliberations for the fiscal 2019 budget until the end of this fiscal year ending in March. In April and later, it would be inevitable that the opposition parties will take a more confrontational stance with an eye on the upper house election in the summer. Komeito also has become more negative about initiating amending the Constitution before the election. Even within the LDP, one junior-ranking member said, “It’s not realistic to proceed with it for a short period of time before the upper house election.”Speech

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