Abe Shinzo : a thwarted revisionist?
Loi, Chin Wee
Date of Issue2018
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
In July 2016, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo led the Liberal Democratic Party (LOP) to his fourth successive electoral victory in the House of Councilors elections, an impressive feat that further consolidated his position as its president. This has led the LOP to introduce a change to its party rules, extending the maximum tenure of its president to three terms (nine years in total), which could theoretically enable Abe to serve as Japan's Prime Minister until 2021 assuming that he retains the confidence of the party and the national electorate. At the time of writing, his political position looks secure, as no internal party challenger looks ready to challenge him in the near future while the main opposition party, the Democratic Party, remains very much in political wilderness after its disastrous 2009-2012 reign. The 2016 elections was also extremely significant for another reason, for it meant that the number of lawmakers who are in favour of amending the postwar 'peace constitution' control a two-thirds majority in House of Representatives (Lower House) and the House of Councilors (Upper House). It thus, theoretically, fulfils the first legal requirement to kick-start the process for any formal revision of the constitution, a position that no political party or coalition has enjoyed in postwar Japan. This has led to much weeping and gnashing of teeth among the supporters of the 'peace constitution.' In particular, they are adamantly opposed to any revision of the iconic 'anti-war' Article 9 clause, which they regard as the cornerstone of the Japanese constitution. This fear is accentuated by the fact that Abe is the current premier of Japan, who has in the past espoused opposition to the postwar order, such as the American imposed constitution, which he feels denies Japan the ability to protect its sovereignty and to contribute to international security through collective self-defense. In Abe's defense, he is not an unreformed militarist, a label that China frequently uses to incite nationalist sentiments in order to deflect attention from its authoritarian rule and domestic challenges. However, in spite of the two-third majority in both Houses of the Diet, Abe has, curiously enough, not submitted a single concrete proposal to amend the constitution. This incongruous state of affairs on constitutional revision is the key puzzle that this dissertation aims to analyze in depth. In particular, I argue that the alarmist narrative of an impending abandonment of the peaceful path that Japan has forged since World War II, symbolized by the pacifist Article 9, is not an accurate portrayal of reality. Besides the fact that Japan and Abe do not harbor any expansionist ambitions, unlike the Tojos and Yamashitas of the 1930s and 1940s, there are also formidable obstacles that continue to hinder Abe's desire to revise the constitution. In this dissertation, I argue that a comprehensive study on the three critical obstacles is necessary to achieve a holistic appreciation of the prospect of constitutional revision. The first obstacle is the onerous legal requirements for constitutional revision, which I argue have not been met yet in spite of the alarmist portrayals made in some academic and media circles. Secondly, the role of Komeito, LOP's coalition partner, in moderating the LOP's occasionally hawkish security policies, which also extends to the topic of constitutional revision, especially if it concerns Article 9. Last but not least, the enduring antimilitarist zeitgeist, which also acts a dampener on any drive by Abe to revise the constitution and/or Article 9. These obstacles make constitutional revision an unlikely prospect in the near term. However, I also postulate that the increasingly severe regional security environment may eventually grind down these obstacles, which may engender a more propitious domestic environment for constitutional revision.
DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science