Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Constitutional Amendment Procedure Law and the Abe Administration
FUKUHARA Koichi / Journalist

May 23, 2007
The Constitutional Amendment Procedure Law (the National Referendum Law) was enacted on May 14, 2007. For the first time since the enforcement of the current constitution sixty years ago, a law for constitutional amendment procedure has come into law as the first step toward an amendment of the constitution. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wish to make constitutional amendments an issue at the coming House of Councilors' elections has been realized.

Mr. Abe quickly reopened Japan's deadlocked relations with China and Korea, caused by former Premier Koizumi's controversial visits to Yasukuni shrine, by choosing China and Korea for a visit soon after assuming the reins of government. Since then, Abe's foreign policy has attracted much internal and external attention. Now that the main theme of internal politics has been set, a total picture of the Abe administration has taken shape, however dim it may be.

Though it is praised as the first historical step towards a constitutional amendment in some quarters, the Prime Minister does not seem to be enjoying great appreciation or the confidence of the people for his ability. This is because no clear image of constitutional amendments pursued by Abe has struck a cord with the people, notwithstanding the Prime Minister's brilliant slogans like "making Japan a beautiful country," or "breakaway from the post-war regime," etc., because they are vague and abstract.

At a press conference in January, Prime Minister Abe announced his intention to make constitutional amendments an issue in the summer elections and hammered out the three-party understanding already reached among the persons in charge from the Liberal Democratic, Komei (Clean Government) and Democratic parties that "the procedure bill should be made without party interests." Thus the procedure law was successfully but forcibly enacted and in terms of procedural matters, progress has been made. However, as it requires a two-thirds majority in the Diet when it comes to constitutional amendments, actual amendments could be said to be further away.

Declaring himself "a fighting politician," Abe may be considering that the first thing to do is to increase the strength of supporters of constitutional revision through elections, leaving the contents of amendments until later while using ambiguous slogans in the meantime.

The Abe administration is determined to enact, during the current Diet session, in addition to the constitutional amendment procedure law, such important bills as the National Security Council bill, the Education Reform bill, the Civil Service System Reform bill, and other major bills related to the redeployment of U.S. troops in Japan. However, as there are many other issues which the people are very much concerned with, Abe's expectation to make the LDP advantageous in the elections by taking up the constitutional amendment issue may not necessarily be met.

By the same token, Abe's diplomacy, highly applauded for its bright launch at the outset last year, gives no ground for optimism, if the Prime Minister continues to depend on "ambiguous tactics" and fails as the leader to account fully for his policies. Mr. Wen Jiabao, who came to visit Japan in April for the first time in six and a half years as the Chinese Premier, impressed the Japanese with China's enthusiasm for the improvement of relations with Japan by his accommodating behavior. During his 35-minute speech at the Diet, Wen clearly appreciated that the Japanese government and political leaders had expressed their reflections on and apologies for the past aggressive war against China. He also appraised Japan's cooperation with China's economic development during their "open and reform" period. His address was broadcast live in China and played an important role in impressing on the Chinese the importance of Sino-Japanese cooperation.

While Premier Wen unstintingly praised Prime Minister Abe for his efforts to make a breakthrough for the betterment of relations between the two countries, he showed some wariness about Abe's "ambiguous tactics" regarding Yasukuni shrine and reiterated his request to hold future visits to Yasukuni in check. Although China's media in general refrained from criticizing Japan and tried to report objectively, they did not conceal their deep-rooted distrust of Japan, centering around the fact that Abe had expressed his intention to "act together as partners" at the NATO Council in January, for which the Japan-U.S. military integration is being made ready for future contingencies in the Taiwan Strait, and various statements made by Premier Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Aso about "the value sharing league"of Japan, the U.S., Australia and India as well as "the arc of freedom and prosperity" in the Eurasian region. Aren't these happenings, they question, contrary to the promise with China to build a"strategic relationship for mutual benefit"?

In the wake of Wen's return to China, Premier Abe made an offering (a potted sakaki plant) to Yasukuni in the Prime Minister's name at the shrine's annual festival and, as with the case of visits, refused to make any explanation or comment, creating suspicion and fear in the minds of the Chinese.

The hardest blow to Abe's diplomacy is the defeat of the Republican Party in the mid-term election in the United States last November and the consequent fall of the Bush administration's prestige. President Bush has not yielded to the Democrats' demand to reveal a pullout plan from Iraq to Congress, keeping a strong posture and threatening to veto any such move. In order to concentrate on the Middle East, including the containment of Iran's nuclear development, however, the United States has already been obliged to compromise with North Korea at the six-party talks on nuclear issues. As she agreed to direct negotiations with North Korea, and eased financial sanctions, the U.S. made a sorry display of internal confusion within the government. Thus the official policy of the Abe administration to solve the abduction issue by forming an international network including the U.S. and China and applying more pressure on North Korea has apparently failed.

Abe's statement about the "comfort women" issue that "no evidence has been found to prove that the Japanese authorities were responsible, in a strict sense of the word, of coercion" was met with unexpected repercussions from the American Congress which Abe found himself busy explaining. Because of the decline of the Bush administration's prestige, there can be no room for Abe to enjoy the fruits of the solidarity of the U.S.-Japan alliance in such a way as was possible in the Koizumi Cabinet days.

The Writer is former Chief Editorial Writer of Kyodo News Agency.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

福原 亨一 / ジャーナリスト

2007年 5月 23日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Constitutional Amendment Procedure Law and the Abe Administration