Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe’s video message is shown during a gathering that supports constitutional revision, which was held in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on May 3. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marked Constitution Day on May 3 by reiterating his oft-stated intention to revise pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution that stipulates Japan cannot possess military forces.

“By writing the Self-Defense Forces clearly into the Constitution, I will put an end to an argument on the SDF's legality,” Abe said in a video message to a gathering in Tokyo that supports constitutional revision.

Abe also said his goal of effecting constitutional change in 2020 remains unchanged in spite of the fact that Diet deliberations on this issue remain stalled due to differences between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition camp.

In 2018, the LDP proposed four revisions to the Constitution, one of which would alter the wording in Article 9. The party aims to submit the revisions to the Diet.

The change that worries critics the most is one that will spell out the legality of the SDF.

Abe in the May 3 video message said, “I’m determined to fulfill my responsibility by spearheading (efforts to revise Article 9).”

In his message sent to the same gathering in 2017, Abe said that he intended to put the revisions into effect in 2020. In his latest message, Abe referred to that goal, saying, “My desire is still unchanged.”

Lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties who are responsible for formulating their parties' policies on the Constitution discussed the matter in a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) program aired the same day.

During the TV program, Kazuo Kitagawa, chairman of the Constitution research council of Komeito, a junior coalition partner of the LDP, said, “Many people do not regard the SDF as an organization that violates the Constitution. I can't fully understand an argument that the SDF should be written into the Constitution because some say it is unconstitutional.”

Opposition lawmakers also cast doubt on Abe's campaign to revise Article 9.

“Abe is saying that the revision is intended to clearly state the SDF's status in the Constitution. But it will drastically widen (the scope) of the right to self-defense,” said Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Democratic Party for the People.

In his video message, Abe said, “The time has come to discuss constitutional revision squarely.”

For Abe to achieve his goal, parties that support constitutional revision will have to secure two-thirds of the seats of both houses of the Diet. That is a prerequisite to holding a referendum so the people can express their sentiments on this contentious issue.

A critical test will be the Upper House election this summer when half of the seats of that chamber are up for grabs.