from Asia Unbound and Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?

Satsuki Eda: Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?

July 21, 2016

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This blog post is part of a series entitled Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?, in which leading experts discuss the prospects for revising Japan’s postwar constitution. 

In our final essay by Japan’s legislators, Satsuki Eda, chair of the Democratic Party’s research commission on the constitution, argues against allowing the Abe cabinet to prevail in its effort to revise the constitution. Eda served four terms in the Lower House and is currently serving his fourth-term in the Upper House, representing Okayama prefecture. In Japan’s political alignment of the 1990s, Eda left the Socialist Democratic Federation and after various party mergers, was associated with the New Frontier Party (NFP). He left national politics to run in the 1996 Okayama gubernatorial election, but returned to the Diet in 1998 as a member of the former Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Throughout his career, Eda has been an influential voice in Diet debates over the reinterpretation and the possible revision of Japan’s constitution.

Resisting Prime Minister Abe’s Push to Revise our Constitution by Satsuki Eda

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 The constitution was a major focal point in the campaign for this summer’s Upper House election. The Democratic Party, together with the Japanese people, sought to crush Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambition of revising our constitution.

To date, the world’s citizens have sought to strengthen the universal values of freedom, human rights, democracy, and constitutionalism. National constitutions are what translate these universal values into domestic law. Constitutions thus have a global history, one that began with England’s Magna Carta. States, too, have been transformed. Once the power to govern was a possession of a limited number, yet today states are the possession of their people. In this global historical context, individual nations have claimed the right to define their own constitution.

Up until seventy years ago, Japan proceeded in the opposite direction from the world’s progress [towards democracy]. The military assumed control over our nation and pushed us into a world war, and, ultimately, we were confronted with defeat. Japan received the forgiveness and understanding of international society, and turned towards the more welcome path of democracy. As a result, Japanese people have earned the domestic stability and international status we enjoy today. The Democratic Party views Japan’s postwar history largely positively, and we believe that the foundation of our nation’s postwar success has been our constitution.

Prime Minister Abe’s views on the constitution are incompatible with ours. He views the current constitution as some sloppy document that was created rashly by American amateurs in the occupation staff, and argues that it is Japanese people’s responsibility to abolish what he sees as a tainted constitution. His Liberal Democratic Party’s draft for a new constitution would replace our Self Defense Force with a National Defense Force and limit some of the fundamental human rights provided under the current constitution. This would contradict our postwar history and experience, and must not, under any conditions, be allowed.

The Abe cabinet reinterpreted the constitution in 2014 and push through new legislation in 2015 in order to open the way for the exercise of collective self defense. Under the current constitution, Japan possesses the right of individual self-defense as well as the right of collective self-defense. But past Japanese governments have decided not to exercise the latter. Former Supreme Court justices and many constitutional scholars have lauded this interpretation as being consistent with the spirit of Article Nine. Prime Minister Abe, however, dismissed outright these objections of our leading legal authorities. During my long tenure in Japanese politics, I have never witnessed this degree of arrogance.

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Before Prime Minister Abe reinterpreted the constitution, there was evidence of some public support for constitutional revision. Now that the Japanese people have witnessed the prime minister’s attempt to force the issue, however, public support has declined significantly. It is the duty of the cabinet to protect the nation’s constitution; the cabinet does not have the right to put a bill to amend the constitution before the Diet. This attempt by our prime minister, the head of the executive branch of government, to initiate constitutional revision must be stopped not only by those of us in the legislative branch but also by the Japanese people.

The Democratic Party, however, does not necessarily think it is right to shelve the constitution onto the altar of our ancestor’s and never touch it again. We should not reject revisions that would improve the constitution outright. If we are to consider revision, it must be in order to advance our path further while building on our accomplishments under the postwar constitution. Some of the articles of our current constitution could be fleshed out, and some new provisions reflecting our experience after it was written might be added.

For example, Article Ninety-two of the constitution only provides that “regulations concerning the organization and operations of local public entities shall be fixed by law in accordance with the principle of local autonomy.” This article lacks the clarity we need to help build real local autonomy in Japan. Another example for consideration would be some of the new rights that are currently discussed in Japan such as environmental rights and the citizens’ right to access to information. Yet, constitutional revision is not a necessary condition for the advancement of local autonomy nor for the protection of the environment. The current constitution does not obstruct these new demands on our system of governance. Rather [than throw out our current constitution], we should place importance on building a consensus with the Japanese people on how to improve it so as to produce a more future-oriented document.

The Democratic Party believes that we should work on constitutional revision through discussion with the Japanese people. Rather than aiming for one vote more than two thirds of our Upper and Lower Houses, we should aim to draft a bill that will generate a consensus among the largest number of legislators in both houses. At least for our first attempt at revision, we need to aim for the largest majority possible. Instead of each party coming up with its own proposal and vociferously defending it in electoral campaigns, politicians should put aside their vanity, create the opportunity to discuss a draft proposal for a revised constitution, and discuss it openly among ourselves as well as with the Japanese people. The Democratic Party does not want to make its own exclusive party draft; it wants to build a national draft with others in the Diet informed by the wishes of the Japanese people.

Article Twelve of our constitution prescribes that “the freedoms and rights guaranteed to the people by this constitution shall be maintained by the constant endeavor of the people.” Are we, the Japanese people, constantly endeavoring to live up to this promise? I cannot help but think that, after seventy years, our will to maintain the freedoms and rights of our constitution has gradually become perfunctory. All Japanese, on a day-to-day basis, must continue to reflect upon their constitution.

安倍首相の改憲の動きを封じる

今夏の参議院選挙は憲法が争点の一つとなる。民進党は国民と共に、安倍首相の目指す改憲意図を砕かなければならない。

今日まで世界は、自由、人権、民主主義、立憲主義といった価値に普遍性を持たせる方向で、歴史の歩みを進めてきた。この普遍的価値を法規範にしたものが憲法であり、これが英国のマグナカルタから始まる世界の憲法の歴史であり、国家もまた超越者の所有物から国民のものへと変わっていった。この世界の憲法の大きな枠組みの中で、世界各国がそれぞれの憲法を手にしてきたと言える。

日本は70年前までの一時期、この世界の進歩に逆行し、軍事力で国内を統制し世界戦争に挑んで挫折した。その後国際社会の理解と宥恕を得て、現憲法の下で戦後の祝福された歴史を歩み、今日の国内的安定と国際社会での地位を得た。民進党は、この戦後日本の歴史を基本的には正しい歩みととらえ、その根底には日本国憲法があったと考える。

安倍首相の憲法観は、私たちとは相容れない。安倍首相は現憲法を、占領軍の素人が短時間に作った「代物」であるとし、そのいわゆる「悪い憲法」を廃棄することが日本国民の責務だという。安倍首相の率いる自民党の憲法改正草案には、国防軍の創設や基本的人権の制約が含まれており、これは戦後70年の歩みを否定するもので、断じて認めることはできない。

安倍政権は、一昨年の閣議決定と昨年の安保法制の強行制定により、集団的自衛権の行使に道を開いた。日本は憲法のもとで、個別的自衛権のほか集団的自衛権を保持しているが、後者を行使することは憲法上許容されないというのが、歴代内閣により確定した憲法解釈である。ところが安倍首相は、最高裁長官経験者や多くの憲法学者の主張を一顧だにしない態度をとり、この傲慢さは長く日本政治に身を置く私も、これまで経験したことがない。

安倍首相による憲法解釈を変更する以前は、国民世論は憲法改正を是認する意見ももう少し強かったが、国民は首相の強引な改憲指向の姿勢に直面し、今や改憲支持は大きく後退している。内閣には、憲法擁護義務はあっても、改憲の発議権はない。行政権の長である首相が自ら大号令をかける改憲の策動は、国民とともに阻止しなければならないものだ。

しかしながら民進党は、必ずしも憲法を神棚に上げて、指一本触れない姿勢が正しいとは考えない。現憲法の下での戦後の歩みを正しく評価し、この歩みをさらに前に進めるため、憲法をより良いものに改正することを否定してはならない。現憲法のなかには、制定過程の中で十分に配慮を尽くした制度設計になっていない点もあり、その後の歴史の発展の中で生まれてきた新しい憲法の原則もある。

例えば、憲法には「地方自治の本旨」としか規定されていないが、これでは豊かな地域主権の発展のためには十分な規定とは言えない。環境権や知る権利などの新しい権利も登場してきている。ただ、地方自治の前進や環境保全のためには、憲法改正が必要条件というわけではない。現憲法がこれらの要請の障害になってはいない。大切なのは、国民と共に憲法を磨き上げ、未来志向の憲法を作っていくことだ。

民進党は、憲法改正は国民と共に議論しながら取り組むものだと考える。衆参の3分の2を1人超えた程度の多数ではなく、両院の大部分の合意を得た発議を目指すべきだ。少なくとも初回は、そのような発議の形を目指さなければならない。各党が改憲の具体案を出して選挙で大論争をするのではなく、まずは政治家の虚栄心を捨てて改憲原案作成の場を設定し、国民との対話の中で虚心坦懐に議論をすることが必要だ。民進党が現段階において具体的な憲法改正案の作成をしないのは、このような考え方による。

憲法12条は、憲法が国民に保障する自由や権利は、国民の不断の努力によって保持しなければならないと規定している。しかし、国民が現実に不断の努力をしている状況だと言えるだろうか。この70年で次第に不断の努力がおざなりになっていると思えてならない。日常生活の中で、国民みんなが憲法を常に思い返してみることが大切だ。

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