Abe Sees Momentum Toward Changing Japan's Pacifist Constitution

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he sees momentum toward changing Japan’s 70-year-old pacifist constitution, as public opinion polls show a high level of concern over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.

“We will without fail take a historic step toward the goal of changing the constitution in this anniversary year,” Abe told a group of lawmakers and others who want to reform the document. There is a need for flexible debate, he said on Monday, without elaborating on what types of changes might be sought.

As the population ages and the security situation worsens, there is a need to consider how to protect Japan’s peace and prosperity, Abe said. A poll published by Japan News Network on Monday showed 90 percent of respondents were uneasy about North Korea and almost two-thirds supported the joint show of strength by the U.S. and Japanese naval forces, aimed at pressuring Kim Jong Un into halting his nuclear program.

Still, separate surveys published over the weekend gave a mixed picture of public opinion on revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution, which was drafted by the U.S. during its postwar occupation. While constitutional change was one of the founding principles of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, revision requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, as well as a national referendum.

A mail-in survey conducted by Kyodo News found 49 percent of respondents were in favor of changing the pacifist wording, compared with 47 percent who said they were against it, according to a report published in the Tokyo Shimbun April 30. By contrast, a poll published by public broadcaster NHK found only 25 percent of respondents thought Article 9 should be revised, compared with 57 percent who said there was no need to do so.