Japan PM Abe's 'Holy Grail' of revising
pacifist constitution increasingly elusive
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[July 31, 2017]
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) - 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
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 told Reuters.
"To fail to achieve it would mean huge damage to Abe as a politician,"
said Hirasawa, who once privately tutored a youthful Abe. "It would be
better if he'd never said it."
Abe's second term as LDP leader ends in September 2018 and his support
has plunged to below 30 percent 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 centered on amending the pacifist post-war
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 told Reuters, adding ruling party
lawmakers were divided on the possible move.
Abe's proposal to clarify the military's ambiguous status by revising
the constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 would be hugely symbolic in
Many conservatives see the U.S.-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-Defense
Forces, as the military is known, for exclusively defensive purposes.
Historic changes enacted in 2015 expanded that to allow for limited
collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under attack.
Backers of Abe's proposed revision say it would simply formalize those
stances, although critics worry it would set the stage for further
loosening restrictions, such as fighting in U.S.-led wars abroad.
Abe hopes to revive his flagging ratings with a cabinet reshuffle this
week. A diplomatic coup or a security crisis, such as mounting tensions
over North Korea's nuclear and missile program, could also help if
voters see Abe as the safest pair of hands.
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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe closes his eyes during a lower
house committee session at the parliament in Tokyo February 4, 2015.
REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo
But a failure to stem the decline in ratings, which have fallen from
highs of around 60 percent, would likely doom Abe's hopes of seeing
the revision while he is still in office.
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.
"Unless Abe regains the people's faith, revising the constitution
will be impossible," Hirasawa said, noting the LDP's junior
coalition partner, the Komeito, was now cautious about amending
Earlier this year, Abe had been expected to comfortably win a third
three-year term as LDP leader, setting him on track to become
Japan's longest serving premier.
Suspected scandals involving cushy business deals for friends, a
defense ministry cover-up that forced the resignation of his
protege, Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, and voters' sense that Abe
has grown arrogant have all contributed to the ratings drop.
Comments by former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba suggest he is
positioning himself for a challenge to Abe's party leadership in
2018, although he has not formally declared his intention to run.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is widely seen in political circles
as another potential candidate.
Media reports have said Abe may try to recruit Ishiba for his new
cabinet line-up to forestall his challenge.
Abe has achieved several goals on the security front including
creating a U.S.-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 furor over a U.S.-Japan
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."
(Additional reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Izumi Nakagawa; Editing by
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