Constitutional amendment still a mirage despite sweeping election win for Japan's ruling bloc

(Xinhua) 09:29, July 13, 2022

TOKYO, July 12 (Xinhua) -- Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition ally Komeito scored a sweeping victory in Sunday's upper house election, with the LDP alone securing the majority of contested seats, results confirmed Monday.

The LDP's sweeping win may open up the possibility of a revision to the country's pacifist constitution, but a number of issues, from political division to public opposition, remain in the way of changing the supreme law.

Voting was bolstered by a sympathetic public following the shocking and brutal assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was gunned down by an ex-Maritime Self-Defense Force worker while delivering a campaign speech in Nara, western Japan on Friday.

Abe's murder, according to experts on the matter, contributed to the ruling LDP's clear victory in Sunday's election, as the death of the party's revered former leader and head of its biggest faction, just days before the triennial election, likely swayed swing voters and drove disinclined voters to the polls out of sheer shock and sympathy.

"The brutal assassination of Shinzo Abe has shocked the nation on the eve of national elections," Jeff Kingston, professor of History and Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, told Xinhua. "The LDP's thumping victory was helped by a sympathy vote following the tragic assassination of Abe."

The LDP won 63 out of the 125 seats up for grabs, while its junior coalition partner Komeito landed 13 seats. In all, the LDP and Komeito secured a total of 76 seats, comfortably retaining a majority of the seats being contested.

The former prime minister's death will "leave a void in his party," Kingston said of Abe, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 to 2020 before stepping down due to health reasons, securing the place as Japan's longest serving prime minster.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday vowed to build on the legacy of the former prime minister and work to achieve Abe's career goal of revising the constitution.

Prior to Abe's death, there had been a notable lull in the former leader's concerted, yet unsuccessful campaign for the LDP to dominate the upper house and call for the constitution to be amended.

The issue had been largely sidelined as Japan had to contend with the coronavirus pandemic, ensuing economic tailspin and social inertia.

Though the result of Sunday's election has strengthened pro-constitutional amendment forces, which have retained the two-thirds majority needed in the upper house to re-heat a tepid push towards revising the constitution, there remains a far higher hurdle yet to be cleared.

Pro-constitutional amendment forces are not ironclad. There are differences among them on the specific content of the amendment. For example, Natsuo Yamaguchi, Komeito's leader, said on Sunday night it is not that the Self-Defense Forces cannot do their job without a constitutional amendment, and there is no need to amend the first and second items of Article 9 of the constitution.

Meanwhile, after Abe was shot dead, the cohesion within the LDP has come into question, thus affecting the party's agenda of constitutional amendment.

In addition, a significant number of Japanese people remain skeptical and opposed to constitutional amendment.

Some Japanese media pointed out that the amendment is a "huge gamble with one's political life" for the prime minister, as the national assembly will have to hold a referendum after passing the constitutional amendment motion. If the motion is vetoed, the cabinet will be forced to resign.

Atsushi Kouketsu, emeritus professor at Yamaguchi University, pointed out that the only way for Japan to restore trust in the Asia-pacific region is to abide by the spirit of the pacifist constitution and reflect on its history of aggression and colonial rule against Asian countries.

Takakage Fujita, director-general of a civil group dedicated to upholding and developing the well-known Murayama Statement, said Article 9 of the constitution was Japan's post-war public pledge to the international community to be reborn as a peaceful nation.

It is because of the existence of Article 9 that Japan can win the trust of other countries, and Japan should stick to it, he said. 

(Web editor: Wu Chaolan, Liang Jun)


Related Stories