July 18, 2019
Tokyo--The House of Councillors election on Sunday will be a major hurdle for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's longstanding goal of rewriting Japan's postwar constitution as it remains unclear whether the constitutional reformist camp will be able to maintain its current two-thirds majority in the Upper House.
In the triennial election, 124 Upper House seats will be up for grabs while the 121 other seats will not be contested.
Of the uncontested seats, 79 are held by the reformist camp--56 by members of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, 14 by members of Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner, six by members of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and three by independents.
The camp therefore needs to win at least 85 of the seats up for grabs to form a two-thirds majority following the poll. Such a majority in both chambers of the Diet, Japan's parliament, is necessary to put constitutional amendments to a national referendum.
"The question is whether you choose parties that discuss constitutional revision or those refusing even to hold discussions," Abe stressed in a campaign speech. br/>
Case 1: Constitutional Reformists Hold Two-Thirds Majority
If the constitutional reformist camp wins 85 or more seats in the upcoming Upper House election, Abe is almost certain to step up his constitutional amendment initiative, claiming public support for the initiative.
The prime minister could strengthen his administration's posture for constitutional reform through a cabinet reshuffle and a renewal of the LDP leadership following the election, an aide to Abe said.
The constitution panels of both Diet chambers are likely to resume discussions, with the reformist camp aiming first to enact a bill to revise the national referendum law during an extraordinary Diet session in the autumn and then work on an LDP-drafted four-point constitutional amendment plan including an Article 9 revision to recognize the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.
Case 2: Existing Reformist Camp Fails to Secure Two-Thirds Majority
Securing a two-thirds majority in the Upper House election is widely considered difficult for the existing reformist camp.
If the camp fails to achieve a two-thirds majority by a slim margin, Abe is expected to start maneuvering to recruit sympathizers from among opposition lawmakers.
His prime target will likely be members of the Democratic Party for the People. Abe has told an aide that what would be needed to create a two-thirds majority is not support from the opposition party as a whole but only some of its members, according to informed sources.
Even if the constitutional reformist camp maintains its two-thirds Upper House majority, Abe may try to lure more opposition lawmakers to build a broader-based consensus in the Diet, to encourage Komeito to overcome lingering reluctance among its members to revise the constitution.
"We want (opposition parties) to advance discussions (on constitutional reform) if the ruling bloc wins a certain level of voter support in the election," LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Koichi Hagiuda, close to Abe, told reporters on Tuesday.
Case 3: Reformist Camp Far Short of Two-Thirds Majority
Even if the reformist camp falls far short of a two-thirds majority in the Upper House, Abe is expected to continue pressing ahead with his constitutional reform agenda, if the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition wins more than half of the 124 seats to be contested.
Still, in this event, Abe's goal of putting a new constitution into effect in 2020 would become less attainable.
Furthermore, the loss of momentum for constitutional reform could weaken the Abe administration's grip on power ahead of the end of his final term as LDP president in September 2021. Jiji Press
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