In the 1950s Nobusuke Kishi, then Japan’s prime minister, tried to change the constitution that America had imposed on the country in the aftermath of the second world war. He failed. Now his grandson, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s current prime minister, is trying to do the same before he leaves office by the autumn of 2021.
Mr Abe’s personal history is not the only reason he is so set on this. For his vocal nationalistic base, it is a passionately held cause. And as one of Japan’s longest-serving prime ministers (the longest, if he remains in power until mid-November) he thinks he has the political clout to do it.
There are good reasons to try—despite China’s mutterings. (Its state news-agency once said that doing so would be like “releasing the shackles of the nation’s legally tethered military.”) The constitution is out of step with reality. Article 9 commits Japan to pacifism and to abjuring the maintenance of armed forces—which the existence of the country’s Self-Defence Forces (sdf) clearly breaches. This is the most controversial of four areas that Mr Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (ldp) addressed in recent proposals, even though the recommendation to recognise the existence of the sdf (rather than, say, allow Japan to wage war) is a watered-down version of what many in the ldp would like. The other three areas are upper-house electoral districts, the right to free education and emergency powers for the cabinet.
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