Photo/IllutrationMembers of the Lower House’s Commission on the Constitution meet on May 18, the first meeting since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated his intention to see constitutional amendment by 2020. (Takeshi Iwashita)

A storm of criticism over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposals for constitutional revision erupted at the Lower House’s Commission on the Constitution meeting on May 18.

It was the commission's first session since Abe sparked controversy earlier this month when, out of the blue, he suggested a timetable for revision and a possible target for amendment.

The agreement between the ruling and opposition parties to come up with a mutually acceptable constitutional revision proposal has since hit the rocks.

“The prime minister’s comments infringe on the Diet’s legislative power and amount to an act of causing confusion in the Diet proceedings,” said Masaharu Nakagawa, a member of the main opposition Democratic Party.

Nakagawa called for adopting a resolution in protest and demand that Abe retract his remarks.

Seiken Akamine, a Japanese Communist Party lawmaker, also denounced the prime minister, saying, “(His action) goes against separation of the administrative, legislative and judiciary branches of government.”

On May 3, Constitution Day, Abe said a paragraph can be added to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to declare the Self-Defense Forces’ legal status. He also proposed that a revised Constitution should go into force in 2020.

Coming after his steadfast refusal to share his views on the constitutional revision issue in Diet discussions, Abe's remarks have upset commission members as they work together to hammer out a mutually acceptable revision proposal.

Only the Diet has the authority to initiate a constitutional amendment.

The panel’s recent meeting was held only after members of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party struggled to bring opposition legislators to the session.

In the face of strong antipathy from the opposition bloc, Gen Nakatani, an LDP lawmaker, reassured opposition members that the panel would not be bound by Abe’s proposal.

Eisuke Mori, the chairman of the commission who is from the LDP, said at the start of the session that he will strive to steer the panel proceedings fairly and harmoniously.

But some LDP panel members who have close ties with the prime minister were openly defiant, defending Abe’s behavior.

“There is no problem with the prime minister’s remarks as he meant to say that he was hoping for a deepening of the national debate,” said Keiji Furuya.

Katsuei Hirasawa added: “His proposal was aimed at party members as the LDP president. I have a hard time understanding why it is a problem.”

Senior legislators from Komeito, the junior partner of the ruling coalition, did not touch on Abe’s remarks.

Toward the end of the meeting, Nakagawa asked Mori if he could provide reassurances that the agreement between the two blocs to pursue a mutually satisfying amendment proposal would remain valid in the future.

“There is the possibility that the ruling party may switch to a position to draft its own and go ahead with a vote,” Nakagawa said.

The parties backing a revised Constitution currently hold two-thirds majorities in both Diet chambers, the mandate needed to initiate an amendment that would be put before voters in a national referendum.

Mori, however, did not offer any more than his stated commitment to lead the proceedings in a fair and harmonious manner that he promised at the beginning of the session.