Japan's conservative ruling party gears up to revise pacifist constitution within 2 years

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TOKYO — Japan's conservative ruling party is gearing up for a new push to achieve its long-sought goal of revising the country's U.S.-drafted post-World War II constitution. Its first challenge: winning over a divided public.

Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and other supporters rallied Friday ahead of Sunday's Constitution Day holiday, when Japan's democratic and war-renouncing charter took effect 68 years ago.

The party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has resumed meetings of its constitution revision panel after a 2-year recess, and this week started distributing a cartoon pamphlet to raise public awareness and drum up support.

Backers of a revision denounce the 1947 constitution as one imposed by the United States, which occupied Japan from the end of World War II until 1952. They say it's outdated and inadequate for today's society.

Amending the constitution won't be easy. It requires two-thirds approval by both houses of parliament followed by a referendum. Abe's ruling coalition controls two-thirds of the lower house and hopes to do the same in the upper house by winning elections in summer next year.

If successful, the Liberal Democrats hope to introduce a proposed revision after the elections.

They have achieved some of their key policy goals in defense, national security and other areas, so Abe and his party members can now focus on the constitution.

"Obstacles for a revision to the constitution have been mostly removed," participants said in a resolution adopted at the end of Friday's rally, attended by hundreds of lawmakers and supporters. "The only remaining issue that we need to address is the sovereign people."

Hajime Funada, head of Liberal Democrats' team promoting constitutional revision, said it's time to begin discussing details of a proposed revision. He says the party plans to make revisions in several waves, and that he hopes to make a first round of revisions within two years.

The party has advocated revision for decades, but has had difficulty convincing the public.

Opponents have expressed concerns that the revisions will backpedal from democracy and individual rights.

A 2012 draft proposed by the Liberal Democrats promoted a conformist Japan with traditional patriarchal values, which place family units above individuals and elevate the emperor to the head of state. It says civil liberties such as freedom of speech and expression can be restricted if considered harmful to public interest. The draft also called for amending the current constitution's Article 9 to formally upgrade the self-defense forces to a military, while keeping pacifist promises.

Over the years, Japan has steadily expanded its defense role by reinterpreting Article 9. Abe's government last July made another reinterpretation allowing Japan's military to defend the U.S. and other foreign armed forces, a major change without formally revising the constitution.

The move has upset the liberals who see it as undermining the constitution and democracy, and raised skepticism about the process.

"It was an unnatural, wrong procedure not expected under the constitution, and many people are aware of that," Asaho Mizushma, a Waseda University law professor, told a televised interview, speaking about the most recent reinterpretation.

Funada said the LDP is open to further discussion and changes, and that the party plans to keep a divisive Article 9 revision till the end.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, 96, has long campaigned for a revision and told Friday's rally that the current constitution is "too abstract" and lacks values and principles based on Japan's own traditions.

"I would like to raise public awareness with our active discussions and earnest efforts so we can advance on a new path toward revising the constitution," he said. "I hope to fire up debate on the constitution this year as we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war."


Follow Mari Yamaguchi at https://twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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