Tag Archives: Article 96

Japanese constitutional revision, and welcoming Tobias Harris and Observing Japan back to blogville

Harris headshotAfter a reasonably long hiatus that led me to remove Observing Japan from the Transpacifica blogroll (which I have capped at 25 in an effort to list only the most valuable sources), author and friend Tobias Harris is back, and with a vengeance.

Reasons to welcome him back:

(1) While he apparently did not win on Jeopardy on Monday, this guy was on Jeopardy!

(2) More pertinently, read his latest post: Is constitution revision actually possible? He writes:

[W]e’re probably seeing the emergence of what will likely be a persistent pattern should Abe remain in power. Abe and his lieutenants will talk about the need to revise the constitution, Komeito will express its unease about revision, what’s left of the left wing will sound the alarm, public opinion polls will reveal skepticism about revision, LDP grandees will suggest backing down…and rinse and repeat.

The underlying issue is the much-discussed revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which reads:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

As is obvious to all in the region, land, sea, and air forces are very well maintained in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, so the letter of this law is in some sense moot. But Article 9 still has force and, because of judicial interpretations, limits the status and activities of the SDF. Just as importantly, Article 9 frustrates efforts by the Japanese right to return their country to “normal country” status among states.

The post is actually about an intermediate step that would likely be necessary to get to Article 9 revision: a change to Article 96 of the constitution, which sets a two-thirds vote in the Diet followed by a referendum as the threshold for constitutional revision. The right apparently doesn’t have two-thirds for Article 9 revision, so some are seeking support to change Article 96 to allow a simple majority to trigger a referendum.

So as you can see, if Toby is right, the constitutional revision issue is an opportunity for Prime Minister Abe to play to the conservative base of the Liberal Democratic Party without the likelihood of success. It’s something Abe or other LDP leaders could do periodically to placate the far right, and in that sense is perhaps a welcome alternative (from the perspective of the left, or of China and Korea) to former Prime Minister Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. And as he writes of the crumbled opposition, “Defending the constitution may be one of the few areas in which the Japanese left is still be able to mobilize citizens.”

So follow Observing Japan for regional issues, Abenomics, and whatever else comes up in Japanese politics. (And anyone is welcome to correct me, if I’ve bungled details on constitutional revision here.)