Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is gunning for support from parties, including Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s Kibo no To (Party of Hope), on amending the Constitution after the Oct. 22 Lower House election.
In an interview Friday, ahead of the start of official campaigning on Tuesday, Abe said his Liberal Democratic Party will seek to cooperate broadly with other parties in proposing a first-ever revision to the 70-year-old Constitution.
“While deepening the debate within our party, we want to cooperate with any other party,” Abe said.
In its election platform, the LDP said it will aim to make any amendment to the Constitution “on the basis of sufficient debate inside and outside the party.”
One issue is the question of adding a specific mention of the status of the Self-Defense Forces. The SDF is currently governed by its own law and is not referenced in the Constitution. The charter’s Article 9 requires Japan to renounce war as well as the maintenance of “war potential.”
On Friday, Kibo no To released its manifesto, calling for debate on proposed constitutional amendments, with Koike saying that Article 9 should be discussed.
Abe said that even if the LDP were to maintain a majority in the Lower House, this would not mean that the public has given it a mandate for its views on revising the Constitution. He said each party’s position will need to be considered in both houses of the Diet.
In May, Abe called for the acceleration of debate on an amendment so that, if approved by citizens in a referendum, it could come into force in 2020.
“I did express a certain target for the schedule … but what we hope for is first to deepen national debate on the Constitution,” he said.
Koike’s party, founded last week, aims to challenge the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito on a “reform conservative” platform.
One area where the parties differ is a planned increase in the consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent in October 2019.
While the LDP wants to go ahead with the move, the Abe administration’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said Friday that the hike would be deferred if the economy deteriorates to the point it did before Abe returned to power in December 2012.
Kibo no To says it would freeze the hike.
Abe has been critical of the new party’s tax pledge.
“I don’t know what they are trying to assert,” he said. “We cannot bring economic policies or diplomacy to a standstill.”
Since her party’s establishment, Koike has repeatedly denied that she might step down as governor to run in the Lower House election. The law requires prime ministers to be lawmakers, and by convention, they need to be in the lower, more powerful chamber.
Regarding any potential run by Koike, Abe said stressed that “voters will judge her conduct.”
He also voiced skepticism about the rapid reorganization of opposition parties over the past two weeks, saying new party “booms” in previous decades had “sent politics into (a state of) confusion and caused the economy to stall.”
“Rather than having (our campaign) end in temporary (political) theater, we will keep doing what’s important until the very end and achieve results, and I think that’s what voters are looking for,” Abe said.
On the economy, he said he wants to “spread the trend of raising salaries far and wide throughout Japan” while also helping “regions maintain their energy and carve out a future.”
Abe reiterated Friday that he dissolved the Lower House on Sept. 28 for the election partly to renew public support for his government’s “strong diplomacy” policy toward nuclear-armed North Korea.
At the same time, he acknowledged that the election campaign will raise further questions about two scandals.
Abe and other officials were accused of involvement in arranging special treatment for projects led by acquaintances of the prime minister.
“If (the public) has something further to point out, I will carefully explain (myself),” Abe said.