Japan's Abe Pushes Fast Constitution Change in Election Pamphlet

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pledging to move quickly toward changing Japan’s constitution, according to an internal campaign pamphlet seen by Bloomberg News, ensuring the divisive proposal is a key part of his bid for a historic third straight term as ruling party leader.

Abe intends to have the Liberal Democratic Party submit the amendment in the next parliament session and push for a speedy vote, according to the pamphlet, which was distributed to party lawmakers ahead of the Sept. 20 leadership election. The Sankei newspaper reported on the document late on Tuesday.

The 63-year-old premier is expected to cruise to victory in the party ballot, fighting off a long-shot challenge from former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba. A win would bolster his chances of becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, and may enable him to stay in power until late 2021.

Abe’s proposed amendment will include a clear reference to Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, according to the document. He has spoken of the need to clarify the constitutional status of the SDF without revising the rest of the constitution’s Article 9, which renounces the right to wage war.

While a parliamentary session is usually convened in the autumn, no date has been set so far. Any change to the constitution must pass both houses of the Diet with a two-thirds majority, and also be approved by voters in a national referendum.

An April poll by national broadcaster NHK found 29 percent of voters saw a need to change the constitution, while 27 percent did not and most of the remainder were unsure. About 70 percent of respondents said they approved of the pacifist Article 9.

The pacifist Article 9 of Japan’s constitution

1.) “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

2.) “In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Revising Japan’s post-World War II constitution has been one of Abe’s central policy goals, as China and North Korea build their military reach and capabilities. He’s seeking to formally amend the document after reinterpreting provisions in 2015 to allow Japan to again send troops to fight in overseas conflicts.

Abe needs a two-thirds majority in both houses to approve an amendment. His rival Ishiba supports constitutional change, but has criticized Abe’s plans as too hasty.

Abe also emphasized his economic goals in the policy document. He will seek the complete defeat of deflation and to expand the economy to a record 600 trillion yen, according to the pamphlet.

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