TOKYO (AP) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday called for public debate on revising Japan’s pacifist constitution, saying voters who handed his ruling bloc a majority in weekend parliamentary elections have given him a mandate.
The ruling coalition secured a majority Sunday in the upper house, the less powerful of parliament’s two chambers, while losing ground and retreating from the two-thirds supermajority it had in both houses — a requirement to propose a constitutional change. The result is a setback for Abe’s long-cherished goal of constitutional revision, which has already been a challenge.
But Abe hasn’t given up. He renewed his determination on Monday and called for more debate, offering flexibility on a revision to win support from conservative members of opposition parties.
“There should be a discussion at least, and that was the judgment of voters. I urge opposition parties to face it squarely,” he said at a news conference. “I hope to create a revision draft that can gain two-thirds of support from beyond the boundary between the ruling and opposition parties.”
Abe is expected to win support from conservative members of opposition parties and independents by splitting them from those opposing a revision.
But Yukio Edano, head of the liberal-leaning opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said voters said no to Abe’s attempt by not giving him the two-thirds.
“Prime Minister Abe’s campaign is like his monologue. The constitution is a very low priority for voters,” Edano said. “The result we saw was more than one-third of voters saying they are not allowing an LDP-proposed revision that deteriorates the constitution. Clearly, that is the people’s will.”
A constitution revision has polarized voters, and blocking Abe’s ambition has become a shared political goal among liberals.
Abe and his right wing supporters have long campaigned to revise the U.S.-drafted war-renouncing constitution, as they see it as a legacy of Japan’s World War II defeat and humiliation during the U.S. occupation.
Since he took office in late 2012, Abe has pushed to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities and expand its defense role and capabilities. He has allowed Japanese troops to use force not only for self-defense, but also for the U.S. and other allies in case of an enemy attack, without changing the constitution but by reinterpreting the war-renouncing Article 9.
His constitution campaign, backed by ultra-conservative supporters, has struggled to attract many voters, as they are more concerned about jobs, the economy and social security amid an aging and declining population.