Japan: Can Kishida Achieve Shinzo Abe’s Constitutional Reform Goal? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emerged as the big winners in Sunday’s election to the country’s upper house of parliament.
The vote took place in the shadow of the murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while campaigning on Friday.
A private funeral for Abe is scheduled for Tuesday.
As leader of the LDP, Kishida will be present at the event before moving forward with his political program – much of which was influenced by his predecessor and Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe.
For the public, two issues far outweighed all others in terms of importance: the economy and national security.
Two-thirds majority in parliament
The LDP and its junior partner Komeito won 76 of the 125 seats up for grabs in the upper house. The coalition now has 146 seats in the 248-seat chamber – well beyond a majority.
Importantly, the results give the LDP-led coalition and two opposition parties, which are open to revising the country’s dovish constitution, a two-thirds majority in the upper house.
This group of four parties also has the necessary seats in the more powerful lower house.
To propose a constitutional amendment, both houses of parliament must support it by a two-thirds majority.
On Monday, Kishida reportedly said he would continue his efforts to hold a referendum and revise the constitution.
“I would like to push forward the efforts that would lead to the proposal (of a review) as soon as possible,” Kishida said, quoted by Kyodo News, during a press conference on the electoral performance of the LDP.
Kishida “in a strong position” to revise the constitution
Overhauling the elements of the constitution that ultraconservatives say were forced upon a defeated Japan by the victors at the end of World War II was one of Abe’s most cherished political ambitions.
He had long sought to transform the country’s Self-Defense Forces into a full-fledged army. But in his more than seven years in office, Abe has never been able to achieve that goal. Now, immediately after his death, that seems like a political probability.
“Now that the results are in, it certainly looks like Kishida is in a very strong position,” said Hiromi Murakami, professor of political science at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “He has a large majority and the support of many of the smaller parties, and he won’t face an election for three years now.
“The fundamentals seem to be in place, but we must never take anything for granted in Japanese politics, as we just saw with Abe’s death,” she said.
“Kishida intends to revive the national economy and resolve the security issues facing Japan, but Abe was a very powerful and important supporter of his policies and I wonder if losing that support could hurt him. prevent it from achieving all of its legislative objectives,” Murakami added.
Abe was the dominant player in the PLD for more than a decade and is widely believed to have wielded great influence over the administration that followed his after he decided to step down at the end of a second mandate as Prime Minister in September 2020. .
Economic priorities and security imperatives
Perhaps the most immediate problem facing Kishida is the state of the Japanese economy. Growth was weak even before the coronavirus pandemic further took a toll on the economy, with businesses in sectors such as tourism and hospitality struggling and needing help to stay afloat. Even with the pandemic seemingly on the wane, the war in Ukraine has still taken its toll on domestic businesses.
Kishida is tasked with controlling soaring prices of basic necessities – including food and fuel – keeping inflation within acceptable limits and raising wages.
“The problem he faces is that due to the reluctance to raise interest rates and potentially further weaken the economy, Kishida really only has the option to issue new bonds and increase the national debt,” said Go Ito, a politics professor at the University of Tokyo. Meiji University.
And as he struggles to revive the country’s economy, Kishida must also grapple with a rapidly deteriorating security situation at the country’s borders.
“I read that 80% of the candidates said that if elected, they would increase Japan’s defense spending, which is a very high figure,” Ito said. “I’ve never seen security play such a big role in the election, but that’s just a reflection of the state of the world right now.”
“Every night we watch the news and we see what is happening in Ukraine, and it scares people,” he said. “Japan has spent about 1% of its GDP on defense so far, but the feeling is that it needs to go to 2% – and few people disagree.”
Murakami agrees. “Before the Ukraine crisis, people knew very little about what a war would look like, but now we see it on the news and what used to be just a vague concern is now a very serious and immediate threat,” he said. she stated.
Over the past decade, China has gradually expanded its territorial claims and military capabilities. North Korea, meanwhile, remains unpredictable and appears to be steadily building up its nuclear and long-range missile capabilities.
And Russian military forces have also exercised vigorously in the Pacific in recent months as a show of force.
Become a “normal nation”
While Abe has never been able to garner enough political support to revise the sections of the constitution that specifically limit Japan’s right to operate military forces, Kishida’s latest victory gives him a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet to institute change.
“I expect a proposal to rewrite the constitution to be presented within a year, with the simpler issues – such as formalizing Japan’s right to have military forces – fairly easy to introduce. “, Ito said.
Currently, Article 9 of the constitution states that Japan renounces war as a sovereign right and declares that “land, sea and air forces, as well as any other war potential, shall never be maintained “.
The result is that Japan has what it calls self-defense forces, although ultraconservatives have long proposed an amendment that would state that Japan has the right to have a military force.
Abe has repeatedly said he hopes Japan will become a “normal nation” capable of playing a bigger role on the world stage. Sunday’s election gave Kishida the political clout to do just that.
Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru