The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 4, 2010)
Time to restoke debate on top law revision
憲法記念日 改正論議を危機打開の一助に(5月3日付・読売社説)

Many people might say that with Japan in the economic and political doldrums, the nation cannot afford to spare any time or effort to discuss revision of the Constitution.

But just because Japan is in such a feeble state, we wonder if perhaps it is all the more necessary to get back to the issue of the Constitution since it provides the fundamentals for governing the state.

Giving constitutional debate a push could help overcome the political and economic crises confronting the country today.

Today marks Constitution Day, a national holiday to commemorate the day the Constitution came into force on May 3, 1947. We want people to observe this day by thinking again about whether the national charter should be revised.

The National Referendum Law, which stipulates the procedure for constitutional revision, will come into effect on May 18, three years after its enactment. This law allows revision proposals to be submitted to the Diet at any time.


Diet panels twiddling thumbs

But each Diet chamber's Deliberative Council on the Constitution, where draft revision proposals are to be deliberated, have been twiddling their thumbs.

The House of Representatives has only decided to work out provisions for managing its council. The House of Councillors, for its part, has yet to even establish such rules, a vacuum Takeo Nishioka, chairman of the upper house Committee on Rules and Administration, has denounced as "illegitimate."

The primary responsibility for negligence of constitutional debate lies with the Democratic Party of Japan, which has been mothballing the issue for politically motivated reasons. By the same token, the Liberal Democratic Party should take responsibility for lacking the power to promote the debate even though it lists constitutional revision as a party platform.

The Constitution stipulates provisions for amendments, but the Diet enacted a law on the procedure for revising the top law only a few years ago. The Diet finally ironed out this wrinkle when it enacted the National Referendum Law. However, the fact that its deliberative councils have yet to function is tantamount to the continuation of their nonfeasance.


DPJ stance problematic

Worryingly, the DPJ, which came to power in September, has a unique interpretation on some constitutional issues.

DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa and some other party members are supportive of moves to give local suffrage to permanent foreign residents in this country.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said in a Diet interpellation that giving such suffrage "wouldn't constitute a violation of the Constitution." However, his argument is based on an obiter dictum given unrelated to a Supreme Court ruling in 1995.

Article 15 of the Constitution stipulates that "the people have the inalienable right to choose their public officials and to dismiss them." The top court ruled in 1995 that such a right was limited to the Japanese people and not granted to people with other nationalities. The content of the ruling, rather than the obiter dictum, should be respected.

The DPJ also says it plans to establish "regional sovereignty."

The definition of "sovereignty" under the Constitution includes a state's ruling power. The expression "regional sovereignty" could give rise to a misunderstanding that state power will be transferred to local governments, as if this nation was being transformed into a federal system. The DPJ's usage of the expression is misleading and incorrect.

Speaking at the Diet, Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan said: "No word on the separation of powers is mentioned in the Constitution. The Diet is the parent organization that brings forth a cabinet. Because of this, the Diet and the cabinet could never be independent of each other."

However, the Constitution has separate chapters on the Diet, the cabinet and judiciary. This clearly indicates the Constitution is based on the principle of the separation of powers.

The emperor's audience with a foreign dignitary is not "an act in matters of state" as stipulated in Article 7 of the Constitution, but "an act in public matters."

Ozawa misinterpreted this constitutional definition in connection with the government's unusually hasty arrangement of an audience with the Emperor for a Chinese dignitary in December. Moreover, Ozawa went as far as to surmise the Emperor would say he would "meet with him" if asked to do so. This set off a maelstrom of criticism that the government was exploiting the Emperor as a "political tool."

Hatoyama finds himself with little room to move due to his clumsy handling of the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture. Many analysts suggest the political confusion stems from the lack of a firm security policy by the Hatoyama administration despite its assertion that the Japan-U.S. relationship "should be on an equal footing."


Return to fundamentals

If the government calls for an "equal" partnership with the United States, it should face squarely the issue of whether the right to collective defense can be exercised in light of the Constitution.

In the current fiscal year's budget, the value of government bond issuance exceeds estimated tax revenue, thereby further aggravating fiscal conditions. But Hatoyama still insists "the consumption tax won't be raised during the current term of lower house members."

Fiscal reconstruction will be impossible without a consumption tax increase. The current fiscal crisis makes it all the more urgent to discuss how a provision for maintaining fiscal discipline can be woven into the Constitution.

During the time when the ruling parties dominated the lower house while opposition parties controlled the upper house, questions were raised about whether the upper house wielded excessive legislative power. However, this matter is no longer debated at all. Simply following the proverb "once on the shore, we pray no more" is not excusable.

In a series of lawsuits disputing vote disparity in single-seat constituencies in last August's lower house election, the number of "unconstitutional" or "quasi-constitutional" judgments has exceeded that of "constitutional" rulings. The Diet can no longer remain uncommitted on this issue.

Discussions in the Diet and elsewhere on "the way Japan should be as a state" and medium- and long-term policy matters are drying up. Jump-starting discussions again on revision of the Constitution also would encourage such political debate.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 3, 2010)
(2010年5月3日01時11分  読売新聞)