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Get ready for new battles over Japan’s Constitution

–Lawrence Repeta, Meiji University Faculty of Law

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is focused on the economy  —  check out the collapse of the yen and the boom in the stock market since he took center stage.  In his policy speech to open the new Diet session on January 28, Abe talked about the economy and carefully avoided divisive issues like his plan for a “new constitution.”  But when the constitutional question came up in Diet interpellation just two days later, the Prime Minister was resolute.  He explained that the first step would be to revise Article 96.

Article 96 sets the hurdle for all constitutional amendments.  It requires that amendments be approved by two-thirds majorities in each House of the Diet and then by majority vote of the people in a national referendum.  This is the bulwark that has protected Japan’s Constitution since Abe’s grandfather’s time.

The Liberal Democratic Party revision proposals published in April of last year would lower the bar to require only majority votes by each House.  If the LDP can push this through, it would be able to make any revision it likes so long as it holds majorities in both Houses.  The only additional hurdle is the national referendum.  No such referendum has been held to date, but during Abe’s first term in 2007, the LDP passed a law setting procedures for such a vote.

On April 27, 2012, the LDP published a detailed set of revision proposals accompanied by a “Q&A” providing the Party’s explanations for key items.  I have translated Question and Answer No. 38, which addresses amendments, below. I am eager to hear any reactions to the proposal and to the LDP logic.

 

Translation from:  Liberal Democratic Party (jiyu minshuto) (2012), Draft Reform to Japan’s Constitution, Q & A (nihonkoku kempo kaisei soan Q&A), available at http://www.jimin.jp/activity/colum/116667.html

 Q38:    Why did we reduce the Diet vote required to amend the Constitution?

Answer:    In Article 101(1) we reduce the voting requirement for each House of the Diet from two-thirds to a simple majority.

Under the current Constitution, amendments require approval of two-thirds of both houses of the Diet and a majority vote of the people.  Compared with other constitutions around the world, Japan’s Constitution is difficult to amend.

Because the referendum directly reflects the intentions of the sovereign people, if the procedure requiring Diet’s approval prior to the referendum is made too strict, then the people’s opportunity to express their will concerning the Constitution would be restricted; we believe that such a procedure would not reflect the will of the people.

Some of our members said that approval by a simple majority would be the same as the requirement for an ordinary statute.  They said that amendment proposals would be placed before the people reflecting the exigencies of changing political circumstances, and this would lead to an unstable Constitution.  Based on this thinking, they proposed that the Diet voting requirement be set at three-fifths.  However, there is little difference between two-thirds and three-fifths and there are no precedents for a three-fifths requirement.  Therefore, we adopted the simple majority rule.

 

Suggested Citation: Lawrence Repeta, Get Ready for New Battles over Japan’s Constitution, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, February 7, 2013, available at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2013/02/get-ready-for-new-battles-over-japans-constitution.

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Published on February 7, 2013
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One Response

  1. That 2/3 and 3/5 are not much different is not in my view a good enough reason to chose 50%+1 as a threshold–not even with the additional fact that there is no precedent in Japan for a 3/5 threshold.

    Nonetheless, the LDP correctly states that the Japanese Constitution is difficult to amend. According to Donald Lutz’s 1994 study of amendment difficulty in 32 countries, Japan was in the top 10, above Argentina, France, and Germany.

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