2013: Peaceboat - Constitution Day


On May 3, 2013, as Japan celebrated the 66th anniversary of the entry into force of its post-WWII pacifist Constitution, gatherings were held all over Japan.

Constitution-related events are held every year. However, with the hawkish Abe administration aggressively pushing for constitutional revision as one of the main focuses in the upcoming July Upper-House elections, this year's gatherings were particularly marked by a sense of urgency and a heated atmosphere.

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya Public Hall, numerous groups opposed to constitutional revision gathered to protest the Abe Shinzo-led Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s attempts towards a revision of the constitution and to support the current peace and human rights clauses. With a capacity of 2,000, the hall was full and surrounded by more than 1,000 who couldn't enter.

Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action, in her keynote speech, spoke against the government's attempt to first amend the procedure for constitutional revision. “When people who have power say they want to make it easier to change the constitution, it is the same as them saying that they want to loosen the rules that restrain them,” she warned.

The Abe administration has proposed to first revise Article 96 of the constitution, changing from the current two-thirds majority requirement for the National Diet to initiate a national referendum to amend the constitution, to make it a simple majority of the Diet. Abe has made no secret of his intention to push for further constitutional revisions, notably of war-renouncing Article 9, as well as of many other peace and human rights dispositions.

Ms Smith, an active leader on environmental and human rights issues such Minamata Disease and the Fukushima nuclear disaster reminded us that “it is because we have the current constitution (that protects freedom of speech and assembly), that we have been able to take on the state in the battle to move away from nuclear power. There are people fighting for peace in places where they are thrown in prison for even holding such assemblies. I think we are lucky and we should fight also for those who are not as lucky as we are”.

Kato Yutaka, a lawyer and President of the Okinawa Bar Association who has been supporting the battle against military bases in Okinawa, spoke about the situation in Okinawa. “The Osprey aircraft are flying freely in Okinawa now. The promise that they would not fly over civilian housing in the dangerous mode has also been broken. Transferring Futenma base to Henoko because Futenma base is dangerous is unfair too, there are people living in Henoko also. It's not acceptable to say there are fewer people who will be affected therefore it cannot be helped.” However, Mr Kato also believes that there is hope.

“Okinawa's long battle has changed the people of Okinawa. Six years ago they contended the changing of the constitution, however today 51% are opposed to it and only 28% are in favor of a reform, showing an even larger opposition. Furthermore, Okinawa's fighting spirit is spreading through the whole country.”

Leaders of the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party of Japan also took the floor, appealing that they “want to work together with various groups to stop these initiatives”. Chair of the SDP Fukushima Mizuho explained: "If they can amend the constitution through a simple majority the government will be able to make whatever changes it wants whenever it suits them.” Shii Kazuo of the Japan Communist Party added: "The constitution exists to protect your own rights," he said. "There is a good reason it is not easy to amend it."

After the assembly, a parade was held departing from Hibiya Public Hall and finishing near Tokyo Station with participants carrying a banner reading “Stop the change of the constitution for the worse”. A total of 3,500 people joined the march according to figures released by the organizers.

To change or not to change?
In a country where changing the post-war constitution has been considered a political taboo, the LDP, Japan Restoration Party and Your Party have made clear their intention to make constitutional revision a priority for the July Upper House election. “Most people had believed you cannot hold a national referendum (on revising the constitution) . . . but that possibility may be finally emerging,” claimed Abe at Japan National Press Club in April. “The best opportunity for the nation to discuss it is an election.” On May 3, Abe told the media that constitutional revision “will be a public pledge in the Upper House elections.” Yet, recent surveys carried out by Japanese leading newspapers show that Japanese public opinion may not support constitutional revision.

According to the Japan Daily Press, 52% of the respondents are opposed to the proposed amendment to Article 96 – a move seen by many as paving the way to revise Article 9. In addition, a poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed that a majority of respondents oppose an amendment of Article 9 (52% are opposed to changing it, with 39% in favor), the creation of a national defense force (62% opposition, 31% support) and a re-interpretation of the Constitution regarding Japan’s right to collective self-defense, that the country possesses it but cannot exercise it – (56% in favor of maintaining the current stance, and 33% wanting to enable Japan to exercise the right).

At the political level, it is also unclear if Abe will be able to get his way. It would require that the three parties calling for revision (LDP, Japan Restoration Party and Your Party) more than double their representation in the upcoming elections, and win over members of opposition parties that remain divided on the issue. Yet, the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, has expressed its opposition to revising Article 96 before holding discussions on other intended changes of the constitution, and the ruling coalition partner New Komeito has shown resistance against easing the criteria for constitutional amendments.

International support for Japan’s peace constitution
The debate over amending Japan’s constitution has not only become one of the most important issues in Japan’s political discussions – ahead of the Upper House elections scheduled in July and for the months to come. It has also turned into a matter of global concern, both regionally and internationally.

A number of international groups and figures have responded to the appeal by the Japanese peace movement by sending messages of support for Japan’s peace constitution, and against the government’s trend to nationalism and its path to militarism. These messages of support were printed and distributed during the May 3rd event.

The power of the people
In light of the important mobilization and the lack of political backing, Abe’s LDP has been forced to take a step back and announced on May 24 that it would not, after all, include amending Article 96 as part of its campaign pledges for the July Upper House elections.

If this decision can be seen as a first victory for those who campaign against Abe’s attempts to revise Japan’s peace constitution, observers prefer to interpret the move as a change of strategy aimed at maximizing the LDP’s chances of success in the upcoming elections.

Indeed, party officials have made clear that constitutional reform remains high in the LDP policy platform.

This decision, however, comes as an encouragement to the Japanese peace movement, which remains committed to protect the country’s peace constitution, as the debate promises to last well beyond July.

Source: Global Article 9 Campaign eNewsletter (April-June 2013)
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1. Survey on Article 96
2. Asahi poll: 54% against making constitutional revisions easier
3. Japan's peace pledge under attack

Survey on Article 96


Surveys shows over half of Japanese opposed to Article 96 revision


A survey by a leading Japanese newspaper shows that 52% of the respondents are opposed to the proposed amendment to Article 96 of the Constitution that would make it easier to make revisions to the rest of the Constitution. This proposal is being initiated by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The move has been met with controversy and criticism as some observers feel that the proposal to change the conditions for making constitutional changes, from a 2/3 vote of both houses to just a majority, is paving the way to revise Article 9, which prohibits the government from making an act of war. When divided by gender, 54% of females and 49% of the males are against the amendments while 35% of the women and 47% of the men support it. The survey also showed that 64% of respondents will take into consideration “greatly” or “somewhat” this amendment issue when choosing which party to vote for in the Upper House election in July. 33% said that factors “very little” or “not at all” when they decide in the elections. When asked how the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito should do if they are conflicted when it comes to constitutional revisions, 46% said they should cut their partnership while 49% said they should not do so.

The survey also asked questions regarding other issues aside from the constitutional amendments. 60% are against Japan’s exporting nuclear power plant technology to other countries, while 32% agree with the initiative. 80% of respondents say that they do not see yet the benefits of the so-called economic revival of Japan while 13% say they already feel it. 59% believe that the “Abenomics” measures implemented by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will indeed revive the country’s economy.




Asahi poll: 54% against making constitutional revisions easier

Despite strong public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his Liberal Democratic Party faces stiff voter opposition on its proposed changes to the Constitution.
More than half of voters are opposed to the LDP's proposal to ease the requirement for initiating constitutional revisions, with a similar number opposed to amending the war-renouncing Article 9, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.
Questionnaires were mailed to 3,000 voters nationwide, and 73 percent of them, or 2,194, provided valid responses. The survey was conducted between March and April ahead of Constitution Day on May 3.

Under Article 96, the Diet needs the support of at least two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber to initiate a constitutional revision. The revision must then receive a majority of voter approval in a referendum.

In a draft proposal to revise the Constitution released last year, the LDP called for lowering the requirement for initiating a revision from two-thirds to more than one-half of lawmakers in each Diet chamber. The Abe administration supports the change.

The Japan Restoration Party backs easing the requirement, while the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party are opposed.

In the survey, 54 percent of respondents said they are opposed to the LDP proposal, compared with 38 percent who support it.

The survey also asked voters about the wide differences in the weight of votes, measured by the number of eligible voters per Diet seat, that exist in both chambers. Many courts have ruled such disparities in the 2012 Lower House election unconstitutional.

In the survey, 54 percent of respondents said "there is a problem" with lawmakers elected under such conditions initiating a constitutional revision, compared with 38 percent who said "there is not a problem."

Even among those who back the looser requirement proposed by the LDP, 44 percent said there is a problem.

In its draft proposal to revise the Constitution, the LDP also called for amending Article 9.

However, 52 percent of respondents said the article "had better not be changed," compared with 39 percent who said it "had better be changed."

Voters who want to keep Article 9 intact have typically outnumbered those who want to amend it. In an Asahi Shimbun telephone survey in April 2012, 55 percent of respondents said Article 9 "had better not be changed," compared with 30 percent who said it "had better be changed." The question was worded differently from the most recent survey.

Even voters who support the LDP are split over the wisdom of amending Article 9.
In the latest survey, 49 percent of respondents said they would vote for the LDP in the proportional representation portion if the Upper House election, scheduled for this summer, were held now.

Among those voters, 46 percent said Article 9 "had better not be changed" and 45 percent said it "had better be changed."

Voters were also asked whether the Constitution as a whole needs to be changed. Fifty-four percent said it "needs to be changed," while 37 percent said it "does not need to be changed."

Asahi Shimbun surveys indicate that supporters of revisions have generally outnumbered opponents since the latter half of the 1990s.

The latest survey also asked about the right to collective self-defense, which is the right to defend an ally being attacked even when Japan itself is not under attack.

Under the government's interpretation of the Constitution, Japan possesses the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to change the interpretation to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, without revising the Constitution.

According to the survey, 56 percent of respondents said Japan must "maintain the stance that it cannot exercise" the right to collective self-defense, and 33 percent said the nation must "enable itself to exercise" it.

The latter group of respondents was asked how Japan should enable itself to exercise that right.

Sixty-three percent said the Constitution must be changed, while 34 percent said only the government's interpretation needs to be changed.

In an Asahi Shimbun interview survey in 2006, 53 percent of respondents said Japan must "maintain the stance that it cannot exercise" the right to collective self-defense, compared with 36 percent who said the nation must "enable itself to exercise" it. The question was worded differently from the most recent survey.

The LDP's proposal also calls for the creation of a "national defense force."

According to the survey, 62 percent of respondents are opposed to a national defense force, double the 31 percent who support it.

Of those who said Article 9 should be changed, 65 percent support the national defense force, while 29 percent are opposed to it.

The survey showed that 66 percent of voters support the Abe Cabinet and 24 percent do not. Both of those numbers are relatively higher in mail surveys than in telephone surveys.

Even among those who support the Cabinet, 52 percent said Japan must "maintain the stance that it cannot exercise" the right to collective self-defense, compared with 38 percent who said the nation must "enable itself to exercise" it.


Japan's peace pledge under attack



Japan adopted its war-renouncing constitution following World War II, with Article 9 as a promise to itself and a pledge to the world to never repeat its mistakes. The debate provoked by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo over amending this famous peace clause threatens to destabilise the fragile regional peace

In the past few months, Japan has been experiencing political changes, notably with the December 2012 re-election of Abe Shinzo, a key figure of Japan’s ideological conservative right, as the country’s Prime Minister. This development threatens to have a drastic impact on Japan’s longstanding war-renouncing policies in the international area.

During his first tenure as Prime Minister in 2006-2007, Abe ardently pushed for the revision of Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution in the name of building a “strong Japan”. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is the famous peace clause, which renounces war as a means of settling international disputes and prohibits the maintenance of armed forces and other war potential. Abe’s track record includes a series of decisions aimed at curtailing the scope of Japan’s peace clause, notably the creation of the Ministry of Defence, attempts to re-interpret Article 9 to expand the mandates of Self-Defence Forces’ missions and allow collective action, as well as, some will even say, encourage the debate over Japan’s acquiring of nuclear weapons.

Back in power, Abe is determined to push his agenda forward. One of his first moves has been to order the bolstering of the country’s military and announce an increase of 40 billion yen ($440 million) in defense spending – the first increase in 11 years. He has also made clear that he intends to revise defense guidelines with the US, which would like to incorporate Japan’s SDF into the its global military strategy, and turn Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) into a full-fledged national army. All these measures bring the debate over rewriting Japan’s pacifist constitution back at the top of the political agenda.

Japan’s Peace Constitution threatened
Indeed, Prime Minister Abe has made no secret of his intention to push for constitutional revisions, notably of war-renouncing Article 9, as well as of many other peace and human rights dispositions. In fact, last April, before Abe returned to power, his conservative Liberal Democratic Party prepared a new draft constitution, with the changes it would like to see adopted as part of its broader agenda "to reclaim Japanese sovereignty" by getting rid of the current constitution, which, according to Abe, fails “to provide a necessary condition for an independent nation”.

Changes proposed in the LDP’s draft include: deleting "the right to live in peace, free from want and fear" granted in the current preamble; removing Article 97, which guarantees fundamental human rights and the supremacy of the constitution; increasing the Emperor’s powers; limiting the freedom of speech "for the purpose of interfering public interest and public order"; loosening the prohibition to inflict torture and inhuman treatments; revising human rights provisions to place them in the context of “the State's history, culture and tradition"; curtailing the independence of the judiciary from political control; and imposing a number of obligations on the people, such as respecting the flag and national anthem, obeying commands from the State. The draft further insists that people have responsibilities and obligations towards the state in counterpart for enjoying freedoms and rights.
But it isn’t a secret for anybody: one of Abe’s priorities is to amend Japan’s peace clause – Article 9.

Article 9 - a pledge to the world
Japan adopted its war-renouncing constitution following World War II, with Article 9 as a promise to itself and a pledge to the world, particularly neighboring countries that suffered under Japanese invasions and colonial rule, to never repeat its mistakes.

However, despite the restrictions of Article 9, Japan's SDF have gradually expanded over the years, making Japan’s military budget the world’s 6th largest and one of the biggest and most advanced militaries in Asia. They have also – in a long list of controversial and constitutionally questionable activities – provided support to US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, carried anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, opened a military base in Djibouti, provided military aid abroad, in the form of disaster relief and engineering, notably in Cambodia and East Timor, and deployed troops to assist the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

Yet, Article 9 and the Japanese people's support for its principles have acted as a restraint against the further militarization of Japan and forced the government, in its national policies, to abide by several key principles anchored in the spirit of its peace clause. These famously include: the Three Non-Nuclear Principles – of not possessing or producing nuclear weapons or allowing them on its territory – that were first announced by then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in 1967 and for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974; the Three Principles on Arms Export that generally prohibit the export of arms and weapons; and, to some extent, the principle of so-called “Exclusively Defensive Defense.”

In other words, Japan’s Article 9 is not just a provision of the Japanese law. It also acts as a regional and international peace mechanism towards reducing military spending, supporting conflict prevention, mitigating the negative environmental impact of the military, ending violence against women, and more. In July 2005, the UN-convened Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) submitted an action agenda for Northeast Asia that declared that "Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution has been the foundation for collective security for the entire Asia Pacific region."

Regional and international ramifications
Today, in the current context of regional tensions, notably with China regarding sovereignty over East China Sea islets (Senkaku/Diaoyu/Daiaoyutai Islands), with South Korea (over Dokdo/Takeshima Island) and with North Korea over its nuclear program, the debate over amending Article 9 threatens to destabilize the fragile regional peace.

Indeed, offensive remarks by Japanese right-wing politicians, particularly regarding South Korean ‘comfort women’ forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s Imperial Army during WWII as being “necessary” and questioning that Japan’s wartime actions should be considered as “aggression”, risk exacerbating already tense regional equations, while at the same time, territorial disputes have brought the issue of national security into the spotlight within the political debate in Japan. In a vicious circle, regional tensions and rising nationalism have tended to fuel each other, posing a great risk of disrupting the delicate balance in Northeast Asia, triggering an arms race and escalating into a regional – if not global – conflict.
Mobilization and call for support

Recent surveys carried out by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper show that if 66% of Japanese voters support the Abe Cabinet, largely as a result of his Abenomics strategy to tackle recession, a majority of respondents oppose an amendment of Article 9 (52% are opposed to changing it, against 39% in favor), the creation of a national defense force (62% oppose it, against 31% who support it) and a re-interpretation of the Constitution regarding Japan’s right to collective self-defense – that the country possesses it but cannot exercise it – (56% in favor of maintaining the current stance against 33% that want the country to enable itself to exercise it).

In this political context, and as Japan celebrates the 66th anniversary of the adoption of its pacifist Constitution that entered into force on May 3, 1947, many Japanese citizen’s groups are getting organized to initiate a public debate and raise awareness about the grave consequences Abe’s policies would have on Japan, the regional context and the image Japan has abroad.

Global Article 9 Campaign
Launched in 2005 by a coalition of civil society organizations in Japan, the Global Article 9 Campaign seeks not only to locally protect Article 9 and build a society based on peace and security that do not rely on force; it also acts to educate people around the world about existing international peace mechanisms such as Japan’s Constitution and encourage governments to work towards disarmament, demilitarization and a culture of peace.

At the international level, a strong international network of NGOs and individuals, including Nobel Peace Laureates and key international figures, has formed in support of the campaign. This growing international movement and support makes clear that the world values Article 9 as an ideal to which all people aspire, and as a model to follow.

As part of the campaign, the large-scale Global Article 9 Conference took place in Japan in 2008 and two international follow-up events were held in 2009 in Costa Rica and Ecuador. Since then, the Campaign engages in advocacy efforts at the international level, highlighting the global impact of Article 9, notably in the fields of Conflict Prevention, Disarmament for Development, the reduction of military spending, the codification of the Human Right to Peace, as well as the promotion of Peace Constitutions.

Today, Japan’s peace movement is seeking the urgent support of those who wish for peace, for Japan’s peace constitution and against the Japanese government’s trend of nationalism and its path to militarism that would have grave consequences for Japan, the regional context and international peace.

Article 9 gives hope – hope that another world is possible. Should Japan renounce to its peace clause, the world would take a step back in realizing this vision.

About the authors
Céline Nahory is the international coordinator for Peace Boat. She has worked for ten years with NGOs in the US, Japan and India, carrying out research and running advocacy campaigns on issues of peace, security, disarmament, economic justice and sustainable development..

Yoshioka Tatsuya is co-founder and director of Peace Boat. He is the leader of the Global Article 9 campaign to protect and promote Japan's war-renouncing constitution as a global common value for peace. Since the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, he has devoted his energies to thsi issue.




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