Ichiro Ozawa, President
The Japanese Constitution celebrates its 68th anniversary this May. A constitution is a set of rules decided upon by the people of a nation in order to protect that nation and the livelihoods of its citizens, and is the foundation on which all other laws and systems are based. Therefore, it is obvious that it needs to possess both stability and rigidity. Article 96 of the Japanese Constitution stipulates that a majority of two thirds or more of both Houses of the Diet will be needed for constitutional revision. It is likely that this requirement was put in place to prevent easy revision of the Constitution that runs counter to its basic philosophy.
Likewise, the four great principles of the sovereignty of the people, respect for basic human rights, pacifism, and international cooperation set forth in the preamble of the Japanese Constitution are universal human values that should still be respected today. Furthermore, these values are consistent with those expressed in the United Nations Charter, and we should continue to adhere to them.
On the other hand, it is ridiculous to say that the Constitution should never be revised under any circumstances, and there is thus not much meaning in the old standoff between those who want to protect the Constitution and those who want to revise it. If we have reached a situation where changes in the times and in global affairs mean that the provisions of the Constitution no longer fulfill their function of protecting the future direction of the nation and the lives of its citizens, then naturally it is acceptable for the people themselves to decide to change it.
However, if we look at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP’s) Constitution revision proposal, it is drafted from the perspective that the nation takes priority over individual citizens. It demonstrates a way of thinking that ignores and denies the basic philosophy of the Japanese Constitution. This should not be accepted under any circumstances. The draft proposal exceeds the boundaries of constitutional revision, and should rather be described as an attempt to create a new Constitution. This “revision” the LDP is attempting to implement fundamentally repudiates the philosophy of the Japanese Constitution. Consequently, it has no continuity with the present Constitution, and moreover, its contents could be said to be more reactionary than the old Meiji Constitution.
If the Abe Cabinet were to broach the subject of constitutional reform directly, they would face strong opposition and it would be very difficult for them to proceed. Instead they have used sleight of hand and weasel words in a drip-drip-drip approach to bring about what is a revision of the Constitution in all but name. Last summer’s Cabinet decision permitting the use of the right to collective self-defence is a prime example of this. The ruling parties are now trying to establish a legal framework that goes further than the use of the right to collective self-defence. This method which totally ignores the Constitution, and should never be permitted by a democratic nation that respects the rule of law.
If Prime Minister Abe truly believes it is necessary to use the right to collective self-defence for the sake of Japan, he should put a proposal to revise Article 9 of the Constitution directly to the Japanese people. The government should not just take palliative measures, but make sure it engages in honest political governance.
For the government to avoid engaging in open discussion, and to conceal their purpose with fine-sounding words by building up fait accompli in a slow drip-drip-drip way, is to repeat the history of the years leading up to WWII. Then people said to themselves, “Well, we have ended up coming this far, so there is nothing we can do about it.” This happened repeatedly, and so Japan found itself gradually sliding down the slippery slope into that terrible war. I am concerned that Prime Minister Abe’s use of similar methods will lead Japan in the wrong direction and cause irreparable damage to the lives of the Japanese people.
The philosophy espoused by the Japanese Constitution is founded upon the sovereignty of the people. In other words a “community state” is created based on a consensus obtained by free-thinking citizens engaging in free debate, and it is the Constitution which regulates this community state and acts as the highest legislative instrument whose purpose is to protect citizen’s lives. At the heart of this lies the expression of an individual’s free will, and that is the most important constitutional principle.
I believe that we have reached a moment in time where each citizen of Japan needs to properly understand this fact, and to be prepared to express their opinion on this issue. That is a measure of how dangerous the situation facing Japan today really is. When it comes to constitutional revision, inciting or forcing people to take a certain viewpoint can certainly never be described as sovereignty of the people.