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Diet okays bill for referendum on Constitution change

Date Posted: 2007-05-18

Japan’s Diet took the first steps Monday toward the first change to the country’s Constitution since being implemented in 1947.

Set to take effect in three years, the referendum law was passed by the Diet’s Upper House Monday.

The lawmakers handed the first-round victory in updating the Constitution to Prime Minister Shizo Abe, who had led the crusade to update the 60-year-old document. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito threw their weight behind the bill, which establishes rules and procedures to bring Constitutional change before the public.

Protest groups had lobbied at the Diet before the vote, trying to persuade the Diet not to go ahead with a vote, which came only a month after the bill was introduced. Strong objections were voiced by Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, and by members of the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s largest opposition party. Opponents say any change would “destroy the Constitution”.

Abe had made the bill’s passage a key legislative agenda item. He followed in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in arguing change is necessary and inevitable for Japan to be a strong international leader. A referendum in 2010, in which all Japanese citizens 18 and older can vote, could lead to changes in Article 9, which has kept Japan from having a true military because of its war-renouncing language.

Each potential change to the Constitution will be introduced as separate legislation, and debated and voted upon separately. More than 100 Lower House lawmakers and 50 Upper House lawmakers must sign on to any proposed change. A simple majority from Japanese voters is required to pass revisions.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party made its first attempt to revise the Constitution drafted during the Allied Occupation of Japan in 1955. A renewed campaign was begun in 2005, as LDP members wanted to change the military posture of Japan.

An Okinawa Peace Group, also calling itself the Protection Group of the 9th Constitution, has joined with workers unions to voice opposition to revisions. “If the law is changed, that means Japan is going to have war against any country,” said a group spokesman. “We would like to keep it as it is now, never going for war, or never having weapons.” Change advocates counter that “Time is moving, and the old one (Constitution) isn’t fitting the modern world. Change is needed.”

Political observers say the country’s mood on Constitutional change seems to favor revisions. Some polls suggest well more than half the nation’s adults favor change.

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