Constitutional change in post-3/11 Japan.

The Asahi Shimbun has released the 2011 version of an ongoing survey they have been conducting. Of course the recent natural disasters are probably weighing heavily on people’s minds when answering these questions, however the results are worthy of further commentary.

One set of questions is always of interest for analysts of Japan’s foreign and domestic policies- those on the constitution.

When asked if, in general terms, Japan should change its constitution, 54% of the those survey responded in the affirmative while 29 percent said it was not necessary to change the constitution. This has changed from 47% in favour versus 39% against in 2010.

However, among the 54% in favour of amending the constitution only 14% pointed to the need for Article 9 revision, and 9% believed that amendment should take place for the simple reason that Japan needed to symbolically ratify its “own” constitution. What is significant about this is that two of the old reference points for symbolic politics in Japan – ie the need for an indigenously ratified (non-American) constitution and the need for Japan to free itself from Article 9 in order to “regain its sovereignty,” do not appear to be particularly compelling reasons for constitutional adjustment in the 21st century. Academic and media claims that Japan is becoming more nationalistic and/or more “realistic” (in the strict IR theory sense) therefore need to be taken with a grain of salt. To be sure, there has always been a need to take these conceptualizations with a grain of salt and this is not a new dynamic as such.

What is compelling however it seems is the need for political reform – in particular the need for new rights and a new political system to be enshrined in the constitution. 74% of the affirmative respondents pointed towards this as being the reason for constitutional revision.

As for the 29% who indicated there was no pressing necessity for constitutional revision, 45% (13% of all respondents to the question on constitutional change) did point towards the need to protect Article 9.  35% of this group agreed that there were no pressing problems and that the constitution had become entrenched in political life (ie even if American ‘imposed,’ the Japanese have entrenched the spirit of the constitution in its society), with 15% saying that it served its purposes in guaranteeing freedom and the rights of the public.

This result also suggests that entrenched anti-militarism or pacifism, or the population wishing to keep “their head in the sand” on foreign policy, are not in themselves convincing explanations for Japan’s constitutional reticence.

In a straight yes or no on Article 9, only 30% pointed to the immediate need to adjust Article 9 while 59% think it is still better to maintain Article 9. This changed from 24% and 67% respectively. When interpreted in the context of the previous results, while it seems that an absolute commitment to the “Peace Constitution” above all else is no longer (if it ever was) the major factor in Japanese constitutional politics, it seems as if the public is still relatively unconvinced about alternative visions for Japanese security policy and its military posture. There is often a very black and white thinking in discussions on Article 9 in foreign media and academic world- a thinking that seems to subtly imply that Japanese either completely adhere to the principles of pacifism (and thus not touch Article 9 at all), or they must want to embrace either “realism” (ie a “normal” Japan) or “nationalistic militarism,” and thus want Article 9 completely removed. I think the reality is more that Article 9 is not just a buffer against militarism but also against foggy strategic and visionary thinking on Japan’s security. It is completely possible that if Article 9 was to be amended, it could be amended in a way that does not fit in with any of the mainstream expectations of analysts focused on the explanatory factors of  “pacifism,” “realism,” or “(conservative/militaristic) nationalism.” However, as nothing appetizing currently exists (and may never do perhaps),  for the time being slow and steady on security policy evolution is both, from the Japanese point of view, pragmatic and democratic.

Given the strong sense of the need for constitutional revision for the purposes of political reform, the results to other questions in the survey are probably not surprising.

Japanese are very concerned about the vote discrepancy between voters in different regions in Japan (一票の格差). 64% of respondents said they were either greatly concerned or concerned about the issue, while 34% said they were either somewhat unconcerned or not at all concerned with the issue. However, most admitted that for depopulated regions it was inevitable that some kind of discrepancy would endure – 51% said it was inevitable (and thus acceptable to some degree) while 35% said that all attempts should be made to rectify the discrepancy. When quizzed on how much an acceptable discrepancy was in the Japanese House of Representatives,  34% said about as close to 1:1 as possible was preferable, 40% said under 2:1 was acceptable, and 10% said that more than 2:1 was ok.

The survey also asked whether members of the Diet should represent all Japanese citizens or should be representing their electorate’s constituents. 42% responded with “all Japanese citizens” and 52% responded that there were representatives of their electoral district. This would be an interesting question to compare over time but it seems they did not ask this particular question last year.

Recently the Japanese Supreme Court handed down a ruling that said that a 2:1 voter discrepancy in the House of Representatives was unconstitutional and also provided commentary to the effect that mere adjustment by means of redistricting was insufficient and that the method of apportionment of seats to prefectures had to be changed. Namely, there was a need to abandon the practice of allocating 1 seat to every prefecture first and then assign the remaining 253 House of Representatives seats on the basis of population. This was seen to be the main structural driver of vote discrepancies given demographic changes in Japan.

A question was asked to whether this was a reasonable method of apportionment (without the context of the Supreme Court decision provided). 57% agreed with maintaining this method of apportionment while 22% were against it.

It seems that respondents probably were not provided with sufficient information to make a good judgement on this one however. Given that respondents believed that political reform of some kind was necessary – perhaps even constitutionally necessary – and specifically that the vote discrepancy was worthy of concern, then considering this is the most significant mathematical driver of inequality in the House of Representatives this seems like an odd response. Especially given the answer to the next question.

In response to the question as to whether voters would mind if the House of Councillors elections combined some prefectural districts into larger electoral districts for the purposes of lessening the vote discrepancy, then 49% of respondents said this would not be an issue for them, while 34% said they supported individual prefectural units maintaining their distinctiveness.

When considered in the context of the previous question as well, one explanation for the discrepancy could be that while respondents do not want local voices completely snuffed out of the process and guaranteed to some degree in the electoral math, they are somewhat more open to the idea of larger regional blocs representing their interests if this allows greater electoral (and thus in this case constitutional) equality overall.

The Japanese article is here.

9 thoughts on “Constitutional change in post-3/11 Japan.

    • A constitution is not only a document enshrining citizen’s rights but a guide for political conduct by politicians, including which lies they are allowed to tell!

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  4. “The survey also asked whether members of the Diet should represent all Japanese citizens or should be representing their electorate’s constituents. 42% responded with “all Japanese citizens” and 52% responded that there were representatives of their electoral district. This would be an interesting question to compare over time but it seems they did not ask this particular question last year.”

    I am curious what, specifically, do you find interesting about what insight a multi-year data set on this question would yield. It’s a fascinating question.

    • Hi thanks for the question – as a basis for comparison it would be good to have some historical data on this question because if in the past Japanese were even more strongly leaning toward the second option – representatives of electoral districts – that would be in line with the expectation that a MPs primary job in terms of their parliamentary responsibility was to bring home the “bacon” from the previously very large pork pie the Japanese economy served up in bygone years, so to speak. This could be compared with a perceived responsibility to make national policy irrespective of where they are from. In reality of course MPs in most parliamentary systems are expected to perform roles as both local and national representatives. But it would be interesting to see if there were any changes in Japan over time and if so, would that support an insight that Japanese citizens expect their MPs to participate more in national policy making now, rather than the personal and symbolic politics and pork-barrel redistribution battles that seemed to pre-occupy MPs in years gone past – preoccupations I would argue that we are seeing right now coming to the fore in preventing a more robust response to the recent disasters etc.

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