By Linda Sieg
TOKYO, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, buoyed
by a huge election win for lawmakers who favour revising Japan's
post-war, pacifist constitution, is likely to push towards his
long-held goal but will need to convince a divided public to
Parties in favour of amending the U.S.-drafted charter won
nearly 80 percent of the seats in Sunday's lower house election,
media counts showed. Four seats remain to be called and final
figures are expected later on Monday.
That left the small, new Constitutional Democratic Party of
Japan (CDPJ) as the biggest group opposed to Abe's proposed
Formed by liberal members of the Democratic Party, which no
longer exists in the lower house, it won 54 seats, a fraction of
the ruling bloc's two-thirds majority in the 465-member chamber.
Abe said he wanted to get other parties, including Tokyo
Governor Yuriko Koike's new conservative Party of Hope, on board
and was not insisting on a target of changing the constitution
by 2020 that he floated earlier this year.
"First, I want to deepen debate and have as many people as
possible agree," he told a Japanese broadcaster late on Sunday.
"We should put priority on that."
Amending the charter's pacifist Article 9 would be hugely
symbolic for Japan. Supporters see it as the foundation of
post-war democracy but many conservatives view it as a
humiliating imposition after Japan's defeat in 1945.
It would also be a victory for Abe, whose conservative
agenda of restoring traditional values, stressing obligations to
the state over individual rights and loosening constraints on
the military, centres on revising the constitution.
"Mr. Abe is trying to create a legacy. His first legacy
project was to get the economy out of deflation," said Jesper
Koll, head of equities fund WisdomTree Japan.
"The second legacy is to change the constitution," he said.
"You can debate whether he has a mandate but what will make or
break him ... is the constitutional issue."
Any revision of the constitution requires support from
two-thirds of the members of each chamber of parliament and a
majority in a public referendum, with no minimum quorum.
"I think that debate in parliament will begin," said Zentaro
Kamei, a senior researcher at think tank PHP Institute and a
former lawmaker in Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
"But the reason given for this snap election was Abe's
proposal to change what sales tax hike revenues would be used
for. If he starts talking about the constitution, people will
say, 'you didn't ask me that'," Zentaro said.
Abe proposed last May adding a clause to Article 9 to
legitimise Japan's Self-Defence Force. Read literally, Article 9
bans a standing military but has been interpreted to allow armed
forces exclusively for self defence.
Parliament enacted laws in 2015 allowing Japan to exercise
collective self-defence, or aid allies under attack, based on a
reinterpretation of the constitution rather than a formal
Critics, including CDPJ leader Yukio Edano, say those laws
violate the constitution.
The LDP's junior partner, the Komeito, is cautious about
revising Article 9, perhaps even more so after signs that some
of its dovish supporters had voted for the CDPJ. It also
believes that the biggest opposition party should agree with the
Opinion polls show the public is divided on Abe's proposal.
An NHK survey before the election showed 32 percent in favour,
21 percent opposed, and 39 percent unsure.
Media exit polls showed that, despite the LDP's big win, 51
percent of voters don't trust the prime minister, a hangover
from suspected cronyism scandals that eroded his support earlier
this year and a potential risk if a referendum is held.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait)
First Published: 2017-10-23 00:23:56
Updated 2017-10-23 06:24:08
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