Kishida sets out vision for revising constitution, accelerating Japan’s rightward shift

Posted on : 2022-07-12 17:39 KST Modified on : 2022-07-12 17:39 KST
Abe’s death may not have determined the direction of Japan’s right-wing movement, but it seems clear that it will accelerate its speed
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at LDP headquarters in Tokyo on July 11, after the party won big in Sunday’s elections for the upper house of the Diet. (Reuters/Yonhap News)
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at LDP headquarters in Tokyo on July 11, after the party won big in Sunday’s elections for the upper house of the Diet. (Reuters/Yonhap News)

“There has been a shocking incident in which former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had led Japan with outstanding leadership and action, has died. We will tackle challenges, including a constitutional amendment, which Abe was particularly passionate about.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who scored a major victory in the upper house elections held on Sunday, held a press conference at the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headquarters in Tokyo on Monday afternoon to discuss the election results and clarify his party’s future policy direction.

The LDP won 63 seats, more than half of the 125 contested seats (248 seats in total) while Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, won 13 seats. Together, the ruling camp now holds 146 seats, 58.9 percent of the total.

When combined with the other two opposition parties that also favor constitutional amendment, the Japan Innovation Party and Democratic Party for the People, the total seats are 177 — more than the two-thirds majority needed to initiate the process of proposing a constitutional reform.

Despite the major victory, however, Kishida’s appeared dour throughout the 40-minute press conference. This is likely related to the untimely death of Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated two days before the elections.

Where is Japan headed now that Abe, who had long been regarded as the pillar of Japan’s right wing, is gone? At the press conference, Kishida made relatively clear the direction he plans to take Japan going forward.

Regarding amending the constitution, which the ruling party regards as an “urgent concern,” Kishida reiterated that it was a task that Abe had been passionate about, and made it clear that he would start working on the revision in earnest during the extraordinary parliamentary session slated for the fall.

Kishida said the constitutional amendment had been a foundational policy of the LDP since the party’s inception, and that the LDP had fought in Sunday’s elections with a pledge of getting it done early.

“I will lead the debate in the Diet to realize the constitutional amendment,” the prime minister said. “I strongly hope that the ruling and opposition parties will carry out more active discussions during the extraordinary session of the Diet scheduled for the fall, inheriting the will of the people revealed during this election.”

Regarding the scope of a constitutional amendment, the LDP disclosed four items in March 2018 that they called “modern tasks.” Among them was updating Article 9 of the constitution — the core of the country’s so-called “peace constitution” that forbids Japan’s right to engage in warfare and possession of an army — to specify the basis for the existence of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

With this, the LDP made it clear that Article 9 is subject to amendment.

“Since the constitution is ultimately decided by the people, we will hold rallies to discuss [this issue] nationwide and engage in activities to build public understanding."

As a result, it is expected that Japan’s Diet will actively discuss revising Article 9 at an extraordinary session this fall and try to persuade the public to revive debate on the subject.

However, Kishida also pointed to the differences in opinion among the groups that support a constitutional amendment. To this point, the Japanese prime minister argued it would not be enough to simply gain the two-thirds majority in favor of an amendment, but that a majority consensus was also necessary regarding the specific content that these amendments would entail.

After the LDP’s latest major victory and their pledge to amend the constitution as soon as possible, the fate of the Japanese Constitution, which symbolized Japan’s postwar pacifism, is now hanging by a thread.

Regarding rearmament, another concern, the Japanese prime minister confirmed his policy of continuing to maintain the route pursued so far.

Kishida said he “will fundamentally strengthen Japan's defense capabilities within five years by establishing a new national security strategy at the end of the year without excluding the ability to counterattack enemy bases such as those in North Korea and China."

However, regarding the specific numerical goal of raising defense costs from the current 1% of GDP (5.4 trillion yen) to 2% within five years, he took a more cautious stance, saying discussions must be held about the exact spending plan and details as well as the size of the budget and possible financing options.

In response, aides who had been close to Abe, such as Sanae Takaichi, head of the LDP's Policy Research Council, strongly insisted that the goal of 2% for defense should be achieved, bringing up Abe’s long-held goals of amending Japan’s framework document and strengthening the country’s national defense capabilities.

Concerning policy implementation later this year, it is expected that there will be considerable difficulties within the LDP between factions.

Kishida also announced that he would implement his signature policy of “new capitalism,” which emphasizes distribution, such as through wage increases while also thoroughly responding to COVID-19 and inflation issues. To this end, he will also announce measures for soaring food and energy prices in the second half of the year.

The unfortunate death of Abe may not have determined the direction of Japan’s right-wing movement, but it seems clear that it will accelerate its speed.

Throughout the press conference, Kishida mentioned the war in Ukraine and the resulting sharp rise in prices, repeatedly reiterating that “we are at an important turning point” and that “we must create a new international order in the post-Cold War era.”

To this end, Japan has chosen to respond to threats from China, Russia and North Korea by amending its constitution and pursuing military augmentation.

“Japan faces many great and overlapping challenges. We are facing one of the greatest crises after the war. To overcome this, it is necessary for the government to operate [as if in a state of] emergency rather than peacetime,” the Japanese prime minister said.

This is a rather desperate perception of reality that should be closely watched from the perspective of Korea, which has to live with Japan for a neighbor.

By Kim So-youn, Tokyo correspondent

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