Japanese PM lacks political capital to revise post-war constitution: analyst
Voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Minato district in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday, July 10, 2022.
Hanai Toru | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida does not appear to have the “political capital” to overhaul the country’s historic post-war constitution despite a decisive victory in the latest upper house elections, an analyst has said.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Kishida won 63 seats, while its coalition partner Komeito won 13 seats, to win the majority of seats contested for Sunday’s election, according to a Reuters report.
The elections took place in the shadow of the assassination of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was shot dead while on the campaign trail on Friday – in an event that shook the nation where gun violence is very rare.
The landslide victory meant that Kishida had enough control over both houses to propose constitutional amendments.
But the prime minister is unlikely to make any real progress on that front anytime soon, said Tobias Harris, senior Asia fellow at the Center for American Progress.
“Given the inflation environment, given that you know Kishida’s numbers – his approval rating drops over the course of the campaign – I mean it didn’t matter for the election. But he won’t feel like he has that kind of political capital,” Harris told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday.
“Let’s also not forget that he’s going to use the rest of the year to do a big national security policy update. We’ve had a big debate on the defense budget heading into the next exercise,” he added. “We’ll have to see where things turn out, maybe a year from now.”
Under Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution, the country pledged to “forever renounce war” after its defeat in World War II. As such, its defense force is not allowed to wage war except to defend the country.
Recent opinion polls seem to suggest that the Japanese people are gradually moving away from pacifism in the wake of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“There remains the question: ‘How do you engage the opposition parties?’ The LDP has always made it clear that it is reluctant to do so unless it can at least get every party to buy into the process, because the risks of giving the impression of crushing the constitutional review could mean that you lose the referendum,” Harris said.
“But if you can’t win the referendum, you don’t get the review. They will want to make sure everything is fine.”
Regarding the constitutional amendments, Kishida told state media NHK hours after the polls closed for the Upper House elections on Sunday that he would consider drafting revisions that could be submitted to a national referendum.
He also said he would also seek public understanding on the amendments to the constitution.
“There is certainly the supermajority there in a parliamentary sense to move forward with constitutional change,” Simon Baptist, chief global economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC on Tuesday.
The public support is “probably not there yet”, he said, adding: “We would need a dialogue with the public and some sort of national process there.”
“However, there is a lot to be done by expanding the definition of self-defense, which has been done,” Baptist added.
“I mean Abe has done a lot of that and I think the government will continue to do that by using the war in Ukraine as a reason to expand what Japan is going to do.”