Abe Party Rival Says Japan Shouldn't Rush to Change Constitution

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shouldn’t rush to change Japan’s 70-year-old constitution, a former defense minister and rival for the ruling party’s leadership said in an interview Monday.

Shigeru Ishiba, 60, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party who has emerged as a critic of Abe, said he was concerned that the premier was being hasty in asking his party to submit a draft to the next session of parliament, which is expected in the autumn.

Abe Party Rival Says Japan Shouldn't Rush to Change Constitution

"If we can have a good debate and put together something good, then I am in favor of doing this as soon as possible," Ishiba said at his Tokyo offices. "But if it’s a question of doing something because time’s run out, I can’t agree."

In May, Abe proposed to change the pacifist Article 9 of the constitution by 2020, and said on Saturday that he wanted the party to submit a draft to the next Diet session -- leaving little time for debate on the most controversial point of the document drafted by the U.S. in the aftermath of World War II.

Abe’s urgency may be down to parliamentary arithmetic. While he can probably pull together the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority in favor of constitutional change at present, his party is at risk of losing seats at the next general election, which must be held by the end of 2018. Support for his cabinet plunged this month after an alleged cronyism scandal.

Ishiba, who served as minister for regional economies under Abe, has hinted that he may run for the LDP presidency again in 2018.

Abe has proposed keeping Article 9, which bars Japan from maintaining a military, while adding wording to make clear the legitimacy of the Self-Defense Forces -- an idea that his Buddhist-backed coalition partner Komeito may be able to support.

Ishiba said the SDF must be defined as a military, or the whole article would become contradictory, or else could be interpreted to mean the SDF is a police force. Although he’s a strong proponent of constitutional change, Ishiba said he didn’t believe it was the top priority among voters.