27.08.2019 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Upper House Elections and Possible Constitutional Amendments In Japan


The scheduled election (held every three years) for half of all the upper house seats of the National Diet of Japan, which took place on 21 July 2019, ought to be viewed as a key event in the realm of regional and global politics. After all, this was the latest exercise to elect members of a legislative body of a nation that has the world’s third largest economy, and whose influence on political processes on the global stage continues to grow.

The effect of the recently-held election on world politics was further amplified by the significance of an issue, which was de facto put to a vote. This issue can be more or less framed as follows: “Has the current ruling coalition (i.e. the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan and its smaller partner Komeito) together with its potential allies, i.e. Japan Innovation Party and some independent parliamentarians, been able to retain its supermajority?”

We would like to highlight once again that a key goal of the entire political career of the current Prime Minister and LDP leader, Shinzō Abe (who is even today viewed as one of the most influential politicians of Japan’s whole post-war era), is, if not to revoke, but to amend (anti-war) Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution, which is still in force today, so that Japan could have its own armed forces.

We would also like to remind our readers that, in reality, the nation has had such troops for quite some time. Moreover, Japan’s military is viewed as one of the most powerful armed forces in the world. In summer 2015, the National Diet of Japan (at the initiative of Shinzō Abe’s government) adopted a number of regulations (interpretive in nature), which broadened the scope of potential deployment of the existing Self-Defense Forces (SDF). This euphemism is still being used to refer to Japan’s military.

There is absolutely no chance that the initial plan to have Article 9 revoked will receive the support (required by legislation) from Japanese citizens. But adding a third Chapter to the two ‘anti-war’ ones of the previously mentioned article to legitimize the SDF (which Japan already has, as stated before) is possible.

However, such an amendment will add confusion to the concepts behind this key article of the Constitution, as the first two Chapters of Article 9 still postulate that Japan forever rejects war (as a means of settling international disputes), and, therefore, the right to have its own armed forces. At the same time, the (future) third chapter will legitimize a wider use of the SDF.

The author of this report suspects that the addition of the absurd Chapter is a deliberate plan, since its subsequent removal will involve completely revoking the ‘revised’ version of article 9, in its entirety. This will be the final step in the long-term process of Japan’s ‘recovery’, and may, in turn, become a key event of the Reiwa Era, which began recently). Incidentally, during his first speech after the election, Shinzō Abe urged his party to mobilize its efforts and to build the government of the Reiwa Era.

However, two relevant issues arise here, with the first linked to the recently held elections. The fact is that, according to provisions in the existing Constitution, in order for anyone to make any amendments to it, they will have to receive the support of firstly, two thirds of all the members of both houses of the National Diet of Japan, and secondly, the majority of the adult population by means of a nation-wide referendum.

According to the results of the snap election to the House of Representatives (the lower house), which was held in 2017, the LDP and Komeito confidently won an indisputable majority (more than two thirds) of the seats.

Incidentally, during the months leading up to the recent election, which this article focuses on, some information had been leaked about Shinzō Abe’s intention to dissolve the lower house of parliament again. The reason for such actions was to once again garner full support for LDP’s policies overall, and, in particular, for the constitutional amendment issue during elections to both houses of parliament. However, one month before the last election, Shinzō Abe had publicly refuted such rumors.

As for the results of the most recent election, Shinzō Abe’s coalition failed to win the supermajority in the upper house of parliament (i.e. 164 out of the total 245 seats), falling somewhat short of the required number. Perhaps, this is what prompted Shinzō Abe to urge all the parties represented in parliament ‘to be more flexible in any future discussions’ on revising Japan’s Constitution.

The second key issue is related to the question “Why does today’s Japan need this (i.e. the power to either revoke or amend Article 9)?” The author of this article has already opined on more than one occasion that without firing a single shot Japan has almost attained the position on the global arena that it had aspired to during World War II at enormous cost, in terms of money and human lives lost by everyone involved.

Japan’s well-deserved standing at present on the global political stage could be threatened. South Koreans have already shown a lot of persistence regarding the issue of ‘comfort women’ and ‘forced Korean labor’. The only thing that various politicians (and not only those from South Korea) need is a reason to claim that ‘Japan’s militarism is on the rise again’.

One is unwittingly reminded of what Kipling’s wise python said to the clueless young elephant, as he pointed out the numerous ‘benefits’ as to why the cunning wicked crocodile made his trunk longer. Still, in this particular case, it would be more apt to say that the ‘crocodile’ (i.e. the United States and its allies) shortened Japan’s trunk at one point, and also, in the end, for the ‘common good’.

Yes, the fact that Japan’s Constitution includes something which is contradicted by the reality on the ground is a source of discomfort (but more so from an aesthetic viewpoint). But the nation has lived with this up until this moment. So why change anything? Is there any need to put obstacles in your own path?

It appears that this is exactly what a resident of Japan feels (at a subconscious level), i.e. for the most part, he or she is lukewarm about the current Prime Minister’s plans to revise the Constitution. However, it is worth noting that, overall, Shinzō Abe’s work (while he has occupied the post for a number of years) is viewed positively thus far.

And the ‘benefit’ of leaving Article 9 as is became apparent just one day after the election to the upper house of the National Diet of Japan. We are referring here to yet another attempt (among many others in recent years) made by Japan’s ‘Older Brother’ to involve this island nation in military conflicts in the Greater Middle East (GME), i.e. squabbles that Washington initiated there in large numbers. Such actions do not fit into Japan’s agenda, as this country aims to maintain equally stable relationships with all the participants of various conflicts in the GME region. After all, these nations continue supplying hydrocarbon fuels, which is beneficial to Japan, and nothing else is required from them (again, for now). When deliveries from Iran stopped, there was no other option for Japan but to show loyalty towards its restless ‘Older Brother’.

The nation has managed to handle this challenge too, but deploying ships to join the ‘global coalition’ in a region where it is hard to determine who is fighting who is not a good idea for it. We can only surmise who is behind the latest attack on a Japanese tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Japan’s participation in defending the Gulf of Aden from ‘Somali pirates’ (which is to the benefit of all the GME nations) is more than enough involvement for the present. And as for ‘Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism’, the government of the island nation knows very little about this issue.

The Japanese leadership probably implied something along those lines during its negotiations, held in Tokyo on 22 July, with John R. Bolton, the National Security Advisor to the U.S. President. It is quite likely that restrictions limiting SDF’s actions, which are imposed by the existing Constitution (‘incidentally, written by Americans themselves’), were used to justify the government’s arguments.

The Japanese leadership probably promised the important American guest to continue with its mediation efforts to resolve the conflict between the United States and Iran, which Shinzō Abe and Donald Trump agreed to during the latter’s visit to Japan at the end of April of this year.

Perhaps even the results of the election to the upper house of the National Diet of Japan, which was held on 21 of July and failed to give Shinzō Abe the supermajority he needed to amend the Constitution, were the work of skillful political technologists.

After all, the ‘Reiwa Era’ promises to be long.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.