Friday, April 13, 2007

Constitution revision -- still a long way away

The big story out of Japan today, aside from Chinese Premier Wen's final day in Japan, spent visiting Kyoto, is that the Lower House's Special Investigative Committee on the Constitution passed the LDP draft of a national referendum bill that is a critical precursor to constitution revision.

A massive piece of legislation (printed in its entirety in the Yomiuri today, at left), the bill still has to go before the whole Lower House, as well as the Upper House's Special Investigative Committee on the Constitution and the whole Upper House.

The bill will in all likelihood be passed into law, but the question is whether the opposition will be able to stall debate and push the date of passage past 3 May, the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution and the date by which Abe wants the bill passed.

Beyond the national referendum bill, however, constitution revision remains a distant prospect -- as I mentioned in this post, the Yomiuri's own poll recorded a drop in support for revision, and an earlier poll found that constitution revision was a low priority compared to more pressing policy concerns. The process of revising the Constitution will depend greatly on the leadership of the prime minister, whether Mr. Abe or a successor, and I have great doubts as to whether Abe would be capable of commanding debate within the Diet and selling the product to the nation.

How's this for a sign of Abe's tenuous position: The Mainichi Shimbun reports that former Prime Minister Koizumi's offers of support for LDP candidates in forthcoming Upper House by-elections in Fukushima and Okinawa prefectures have been rejected, according to an unnamed source, who is quoted as saying, "If Koizumi works [on behalf of candidates], Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will necessarily be compared with him. The number one thing Koizumi can do to offer his support is to do nothing."

Does that sound like the strategy of a prime minister and party leader secure in his office and capable of leading a landmark campaign to revise the Constitution?

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