Japan's Diet to focus on TPP trade pact, constitution
by Anadolu Agency
TOKYOOct 03, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Anadolu Agency
Oct 03, 2016 12:00 am
The Emperor Akihito opened a 66-day extraordinary session of Japan's parliament, which is expected to focus on the ratification of the regional Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) and amending the constitution.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made clear that TPP ratification is still on the table, even though it seems doubtful that the key partner, the United States, is likely to okay the trade pact as both major presidential candidates oppose it.
During his recent trip to the U.S. to attend the opening of the United Nation General Assembly, Abe met with former secretary of state and now Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton and impressed on her that Japan considers TPP a priority.
The Diet failed to ratify the agreement when it came up last year because the main opposition party refused to show up for the vote. The opposition also opposes elements of the pact, saying Tokyo gave away too much on "sacred" agriculture terms.
Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, now Democratic Party (DP) secretary general, led the opposition during the three-day question time in the House of Representatives at the beginning of the session. Newly elected DP leader Renho serves in the upper chamber. Constitutional reform is also likely to dominate the extraordinary session. The meeting is the first since the July upper house election in which Abe's party and its allies secured a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament.
That means the Abe government in theory has the votes to submit proposed changes in the post-World War II constitution to voters in a national referendum decided by a simple majority vote. In reality it is not so easy.
Not all of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members of parliament agree with the more conservative deputies behind Abe. Not all of the opposition members are adamant against any changes of the charter.
Some of the amendments on the conservative wish list - such as repealing or changing the language of Article 9, the passage that prohibits Japan from settling international disputes by the use of force - are very controversial.
In 2012, the LDP published a long list of proposed amendments, including changing Article 9 and also declaring the emperor "head of state" rather than "symbol" of the nation - wording inserted by the American Occupation - and in general coming down more on the side of citizen duties rather than rights. Abe is a conservative ideologue but he is also a practical politician, who knows that many Japanese would balk at some of the more extreme measures.
To help prepare the public, Abe will likely reactivate the Commission on the Constitution set up in 2007 to facilitate discussion on the subject.
The opposition has asked the LDP to withdraw the list of amendments and start fresh, showing that it is not totally opposed to change. It seems likely that the cabinet will submit several fairly innocuous amendments to the voters simply for them to get used to the idea of amending the constitution, which has never been amended since it was promulgated in 1947.