Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference on Sept. 11 after reshuffling his Cabinet. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Liberal Democratic Party has formed a team to promote the ruling party’s agenda for constitutional amendments ahead of the autumn extraordinary Diet session, to be convened on Oct. 4.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the team’s principal mission is to draft a proposal to amend the postwar Constitution for the first time. But this project could end up fueling partisan conflict without promoting the cool-headed debate needed if the LDP acts on the assumption that rewriting the Constitution is a must.

In a news conference following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Abe said the LDP should exercise greater political leadership in the Commissions on the Constitution of both houses of the Diet. He is apparently frustrated at the fact that the commissions have held no substantial discussions on the Constitution in the past two years.

Abe has appointed, for a second time, Hiroyuki Hosoda, an LDP veteran who served as LDP secretary-general and now heads the faction Abe belongs to, as chief of the party’s task force to promote constitutional amendments.

Hosoda was instrumental in the development of the LDP’s proposal to amend the Constitution, which consists of four changes including the addition of a provision to establish the constitutional status of the Self-Defense Forces.

Abe has picked two seasoned politicians as chairmen of the Commissions on the Constitution: Tsutomu Sato, a former head of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee, for the Lower House commission; and Yoshimasa Hayashi, a former education minister, for the Upper House panel.

These choices indicate that Abe has tried to assemble a team that has connections with the opposition camp and the ability to push forward the tough negotiations with opposition parties.

But the blame for the lack of progress toward constitutional amendments should be placed, above all, on Abe, who has taken an aggressive stance toward the issue, and some of his close aides who have made thoughtless remarks that provoked opposition parties.

Unless his administration changes the way it tackles this challenge, no wheeling and dealing with the opposition camp over the issue would lead to constructive, meaningful debate.

After he won a victory in the July Upper House election, which he used to seek public support for active debate on constitutional amendments, Abe started stressing that the public has given the ruling camp a mandate to pursue the agenda.

But Abe should also give due importance to the fact that the ruling coalition of the LDP and its junior partner, Komeito, and the pro-amendment opposition parties including Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) failed to secure the two-thirds majority in the chamber required to initiate the process of rewriting the Constitution.

Unsurprisingly, Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi voiced skepticism about Abe’s interpretation of the election results by saying it is “a little forced interpretation” to take the election outcome as a public call for debate on constitutional amendments.

It is highly doubtful whether the ruling party should devote much of its political capital and energy to the initiative at a time when there is a raft of policy challenges facing the nation, both on the domestic and diplomatic fronts.

Asahi Shimbun polls have consistently shown that constitutional amendment is not among the issues of strong public concern.

With his term as the LDP president set to expire in two years, Abe may be now focusing on building a “legacy” of his leadership. If so, he is mixing up the priorities in a dangerous way.

The Abe administration has a history of using the ruling coalition’s overwhelming majority in both houses to force through controversial and divisive policy initiatives, such as new security legislation to open the door to Japan’s involvement in collective self-defense, while refusing to engage in careful and in-depth debate on the issues.

Sato, who has been appointed as chairman of the Lower House Commission on the Constitution, was the chief of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee when the ruling alliance railroaded the national security bill through the Diet.

Some LDP lawmakers are already arguing that the chairmen of the commissions should use their powers to promote debate on amendments.

The LDP is responsible for securing a political environment that helps promote lively and constructive constitutional debate based on a broad perspective instead of forging ahead with the initiative.

The dominant party should never use the power of its majority to quicken the pace of debate on the matter, which requires more careful and broad-based, consensus-building efforts than ordinary policy issues.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 26