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Essay and Opinion

Recent circumstances of constitutional revisionism

April 21, 2008

Prof. Toshihiro Yamauchi
<Professor at Ryukoku University, Japan Institution of Constitutional Law Visiting Researcher>

May 3, the Constitution Day, is approaching again. This year, we hear fewer claims to change provisions of our Constitution, compared to last year. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda refrains from openly supporting Constitutional revision, following his Liberal Democratic Party's defeat in the election of the House of Councilors in July last year which expelled his predecessor Shintaro Abe who advocated revision of the Constitution.
Such a change was clearly shown by a nation-wide poll conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in this March. The result, which was issued on April 8th, says that 42.5% of those responded said that the Constitution should be revised, while 43.1% favored the Constitution unchanged. This latest result shows a clear change from pervious onese, in which responses in favor of changing the Constitution had outnumbered the oppositions to the revision since 1993 in the Yomiuri poll. According to the recent poll, questioned about the Article 9, Clause 1, 12.5% responded that they want to change it, while 81.6% believed there is no need to change it (5.9% did not respond.) Regarding the Clause 2 of the Article 9, 36.8% wanted to change it, while 54.5% saw no need to change it (5.9% did not respond.) Thus, the poll shows that more people preferred not to change the Constitution including the Article 9's Clause 2, which has been the focus of the debate about whether to change the Constitution or not.
"The main cause (of this change in public opinion) is the reluctance of the Diet and political parties to debate on the Constitution." the editorial of the Yomiuri says. It cites Prime Minister Fukuda's silence and the Democratic Party's reluctance to face this issue. I found the editorial sensible. However, it neglects more fundamental issue; why both Prime Minister and the biggest opposition party avoid discussing Constitutional revision. Let us look back on the aftermath of the great movement against the Japan-US Security Treaty in 1960. Prime Minister Shinsuke Kishi, who wanted to change the Constitution, had to resign after concluding the security treaty against the public opinion expressed in the legendary massive movement. Hayato Ikeda, who succeeded Kishi, spoke a lot about doubling the national income, and stopped talking about Constitutional revision. Since then, the government has distorted the Constitution instead of changing it. Prime Minister Abe, who openly spoke for Constitutional revision, was virtually recalled by the people. A massive movement did not take place, but the public opinion was shown by the ruling parties' defeat in the election of the House of Councilors last year.
The Constitutional revision was not the only issue in the election; however, it is obvious that many voters were concerned about the ongoing process of changing the Constitution; including the National Referendum Law, carried out by the Abe Cabinet. Such worries surely made a number of people vote against the ruling parties. We should also note that many concerned people are taking part in organized movements. One of them is Article 9 Association in which writers and critiques including Kenzaburo Oe and Shuichi Kato take part. Such movements have been activated at grass-roots level; Article 9 Association has more than 6000 branches nationwide. This is not widely reported by major media; however, it clearly had some influence over the trend of the public opinion which was reported by the above-mentioned Yomiuri article. It was also recognized by the prime movers of Constitutional reform. The Diets men's organization led by Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, in their general assembly, referred to Article 9 Association and acknowledged the necessity "to organize bases or strong points" in order to counter Article 9 Association.
The Defense Ministry's corruption and an accident caused by the Self-Defense Forces may also have hampered the movement to change the Constitution. Last year, a serious scandal was revealed. Ex-vice Minister Moriya of the Defense Ministry, who was once nicknamed "the Emperor of the Defense Agency" received tremendous bribes from Yamada Yoko, a trading company dealing in military equipment. The company paid him for his golfing more than 300 times. Purportedly in return, the company received 17.4 billion yen of orders from the government. Not only the business circle and bureaucrats, but also some politicians seem to be involved in the Defense Ministry's corruption.
In addition, the accident in February this year, which was caused by SDF's 10,000-ton Aegis destroyer Atago off Nojima Cape, Chiba, was also striking. Two fishermen, Haruo and Tetsuhiro Kichisei, have been missing since their 7-ton trawler Seitokumaru was hit and broken into two by the destroyer which was on its way home to Yokosuka from US-Japan joint exercise of missile-defense off Hawaii. The detail of the accident is yet to be disclosed, however, it demonstrates that the SDF have not been capable of learning any lessons for 20 years, from the accident in 1988 in which submarine Nadashio hit pleasure boat Daiichi-Fuji-maru and killed 30 people on board. SDF's innate characteristics are being revealed. The defense authorities' explanations were totally inconsistent after the above-mentioned accidents. They are very reluctant to let the people know the truth. They seem to be afraid of leaking military secrets. We also learned that the SDF make light of people's security and lives. Everyone knows that there are a lot of fishing boats off Japan. However, destroyer Atago was using automatic steering until a little before the collision. It did almost nothing to avoid the clash and kept running straight ahead, ignoring the navigation rules. The crew naively believed that the fishing boat would dodge. Self-Defense officers can not be serious about protecting human lives and security.
Having observed such continuous grave wrongdoings by defense officials and the SDF, people may have become reluctant to change the Article 9 of the Constitution to give more power to the Defense Ministry and the SDF. The above-mentioned Yomiuri editorial did not study thoroughly enough about such factors behind the change of public opinion.
The reduction in support for literally changing the Constitution is a positive change in public opinion. However, we should remember what Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda did soon after his predecessor Shinsuke Kishi, who advocated Constitutional revision, resigned. Ikeda practically changed the Constitution by deliberately misinterpreting its articles. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda might do something similar in his own decisive manner. Prime Minister Fukuda expressed his zeal for enacting a permanent law on the dispatch of SDF members abroad, in his policy speech in the Diet in January this year. The ruling LDP has recently held the first meeting of a "project-team for legislation for international peace activities," aiming for the permanent law legislation, according to some newspaper reports. Taku Yamasaki, the leader of the team, hopes to get the preparation done soon. They aim to lay the bill before the current Diet session. We must not overlook that motion. The outline of the LDP's draft of the permanent law is reported to be as follows. (1) The SDF can be dispatched abroad without the UN's resolution, if the international society requests. (2) The Diet's prior approval is not necessary. With the new permanent law, the cabinet can decide on the SDF's dispatch to anywhere abroad, any time. (3) Use of weapons will be allowed not only for members' self-defense, but also for carrying out the task. If such a law were enacted, it would suffocate a strictly defensive national security policy, prohibition of participation in collective defense activities with other nations, and some other principles that our government has kept. The SDF would intervene in various military conflicts around the world. The principle of Civilian Control, by the Diet, would also become a mere name. We might say that that would be the completion of the Constitutional revision in practice, without changing any articles.
The Constitution has been in effect for almost 61 years. It is good to see the present decline of the movement toward its revision. However, we must keep an eye on the trick to purposely misread the Constitution to a degree that it is virtually changed. We should remember that the government and the ruling LDP would try to amend it, once we become less alert. Therefore, it is important to keep on our movement to protect and revive the Constitution. A timely event, the Global Article 9 Conference, opens in Makuhari Messe in Chiba on May 4. Related events take place in other parts of Japan, too. In the "Global Conference," Nobel Peace Laureates Mairead Maguire and other people from around the world will take part. I am looking forward to go there to learn more about the importance of the Article 9 in the global scale.

Written on April 16, 2008