Land of the Rising Gun
Abe Has 2020 Vision on Changing Constitution

Shinzo Abe has set a 2020 deadline for his legacy goal of revising Japan’s pacifist constitution, according to the Financial Times:

“I want to make 2020 the year that a new constitution comes into effect,” Mr Abe told a private symposium in a video message whose contents were reported by Japanese media. “We have reached a point where we have to start discussions in more concrete terms in order to present the public with a proposal for revision to the constitution.”

Earlier in the week, when he pointed to the gravity of escalating tensions over North Korea, Mr Abe told a cross-party group of parliamentarians that only a small minority of the Japanese public “think of the constitution as an immortal tome”. […]

The amendment, which would mark the first change to Japan’s constitution in 70 years, will focus on Article 9, the so-called peace clause in which Japan renounces the threat or use of force in settling international disputes and vows that land, sea and air forces “will never be maintained”.

Abe has been doing interpretive gymnastics on Japan’s post-war constitution for years now, twisting its limits to allow Japan to provide “collective self-defense” to allies. But he has long hoped to throw off Japan’s pacifist shackles more definitively, and he has lately been using the North Korea crisis to drum up support for a more militant posture, including a first-strike capability.

Even in Japan’s changing threat environment, though, scrapping the peace clause remains a divisive prospect. According to the latest poll, 46% of Japanese want to keep the constitution the way it is, while 45% favor a change. Those numbers are trending the right way for Abe—the past year has seen a five percent increase in favor of amendment—but he will still face an uphill battle in overcoming opposition from the pacifists.

This is likely to be a long and bruising debate: any constitutional revision requires majority support in a referendum and a two-thirds majority in both Japanese houses of parliament. And investors are concerned that Abe’s controversial drive to change the constitution could suck the energy out of other priorities, especially his stalled Abenomics reforms.

Evidently, though, Abe feels confident enough in his position to re-focus his energies on the constitutional issue. With three years to convince the public, Abe has good reason to believe he can bend the debate his way—or that China’s expansionism and North Korea’s saber rattling will make the case for him.

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