As the regular Diet session began on Jan. 22, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his commitment to seeking to amend the Constitution.

In a meeting of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers of both houses of the Diet held on the day, Abe pointed out that the ruling party has supported constitutional revision as an avowed policy goal since its formation.

“The time has finally come to realize the goal,” Abe said to his fellow party members. “Let us work together to fulfill our responsibility.”

Some senior LDP politicians close to Abe have recently expressed their desire to draft the party’s amendment proposal by the March 25 party convention.

But the current political situation is far from favorable for Abe’s single-minded and overzealous pursuit of the big political prize.

Even the LDP is divided over the key question of how Article 9 of the Constitution should be changed.

Abe has proposed adding a paragraph to establish the constitutional status of the Self-Defense Forces to the article while maintaining its current two paragraphs. Some LDP legislators, however, are calling for deleting the second paragraph, which bans Japan from maintaining armed forces, and clearly defining the roles and characteristics of the SDF.

Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner in the ruling coalition, is also less than eager to play ball with Abe.

Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi has stressed the importance of waiting for public support and understanding for constitutional amendments to “mature” in response to exhaustive Diet debate on the issue.

There are still deep disagreements over constitutional amendments even among lawmakers within the ruling camp, let alone those in the opposition block. There has not been broad and in-depth public debate on the topic, either.

Why does Abe keep stepping up the campaign to revise the Constitution under such circumstances?

He clearly wants to achieve the goal of putting a “new Constitution” into effect in 2020 that he announced in May last year.

In other words, Abe wants to get the Constitution amended while he is in office.

The political calendar for 2019 is studded with big events, including unified local elections, Emperor Akihito’s abdication and Crown Prince Naruhito’s accession to the throne. An Upper House election will be held in the summer next year.

It is not clear whether the ruling coalition and other pro-amendment groups will maintain their two-thirds majority in both houses that is required to initiate the step.

To accomplish the goal of amending the Constitution in 2020, Abe wants to secure his re-election as LDP chief for a third term in the party leadership poll in September and have the Diet initiate an amendment by the end of this year so that the required national referendum will be held by next spring.

What should not be forgotten is that no decision on changing the Constitution should be based on the prime minister’s personal desires or views.

In his policy speech at the outset of the regular Diet session on Jan. 22, Abe said the Constitution defines “the shape of the nation” and establishes its “ideals.”

But Yukio Edano, who heads the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, criticized Abe’s argument, saying the Constitution is a set of rules designed to enable the people to control the government’s power.

Edano said there can be no constructive debate on the issue unless Abe abandons the wrong assumptions.

At the end of the day, it is up to the public, the holder of the sovereign power, to make the final decision on any proposal to amend the Constitution.

If the Constitution needs to be amended, it is vital for the Diet to build broad public support and understanding for the initiative through accumulating convincing arguments for the cause.

In his policy speech, Abe also voiced his desire to see the ruling and opposition parties engage in in-depth debate on the topic at the Commissions on the Constitution of both houses.

But his aggressive push for amendments contradicts his remarks calling for healthy bipartisan debate at the commissions.

If he attempts to push through the initiative forcefully by resorting to the ruling coalition’s overwhelming majority in the Diet, Abe could end up creating a serious division within the nation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 23