Constitutional issues to be relooked at by the DPJ

I am making some connections between what are likely unconnected dynamics here, but there may be a future confluence of the strains of political and constitutional activity discussed below.

The first is that the DPJ is going to relook at the party’s policy on the constitution (jp). The party’s executive has convened the party’s investigative panel on the constitution – the first time it has done so in four years. While saying that the current policy on the constitution is still the party’s policy, given that many of the people involved with crafting the party’s constitutional policy in 2005 are no longer with the DPJ it is imperative that the party takes another look at its vision for Japan’s constitution. Crucially, former Foreign Minister Maehara has been made the panel’s chairman, which suggests that foreign policy may be the focus of the panel’s investigation.

That said, it should not be taken for granted that this will be the focus. There are certainly a range of other issues, mostly domestic ones, that should be considered by the panel. After all, as I argued in the previous post, the public is much more concerned with the relationship between the domestic political situation and the constitution than it is foreign policy at this point in time (and as it has arguably for quite a while). The previous DPJ constitutional proposal certainly did not only focus only on security affairs.1

Osaka Governor Hashimoto Toru is first up with his criticism (jp) of the current political situation and the need for a constitutional solution. Hashimoto addressed a conference dedicated to the anniversary of the implementation of the Japanese constitution by saying that there was a need for the public to take back from the parliament the right to elect the country’s leader through a constitutional revision. Claiming that this is the most important political concern for the country at this point in time, he argued that the public should be able to directly choose the Prime Minister. This is not quite a vote for a presidential system – according to the article Hashimoto has said in previous interviews that the popular candidate for Prime Minister should be limited to members of parliament. He has reservations about politicians having a “free-hand” in the election of the country’s ultimate leader. On its own the policy is not likely to get much traction but if Hashimoto can somehow connect the logic (and the details of how it would work electorally and institutionally) it to his decentralization campaign, it might well gain more discussion space than it otherwise would.

Not unpredictably the The Reconstruction Design Council (en) will likely give a boost to Hashimoto’s decentralization crusade at the end of June. They are looking to publish the initial recommendations from the first four meetings and subsequent observations of the disaster area, and their discussions with important stakeholders. The guiding principles have already been published (jp). The first official report back will focus on the regeneration of regional economies and regional communities, which will obviously have some impact on the debate about decentralization in Japan. From mid-May four working groups will be convened under the Council and will work on putting flesh on the bones of proposals related to disaster prevention and community development, local industries (mainly regeneration of farming and fishing industries), medium-term energy policy, and finally employment and social security.

It will be interesting to see if any political actor down the track makes any coherent connections between these discussions, hopefully with due consideration being given to the pressing electoral issues raised by the Japanese Supreme Court in recent times.

1 In general terms the DPJ’s constitutional proposal pointed to the need for Japan to consider its foreign policy more coherently and the constitution should reflect this need- in other words the current process of “ad-hoc” foreign policy making, proceeding through the process of constitutional reinterpretation by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, was potentially hazardous. It argued that there was a need to better and clearly define the allowable extent of Japan’s use of force for defense, and in particular the use of force overseas. It promoted the concept of “limited” defense which would enable Japan to be more active overseas, and move from being a “peace-loving” country to a “peace-creating” country which would mean some allowances being made for the deployment of Japanese forces overseas. However ultimately the restrictions on the use of force would still be significantly stronger than those allowed in international law (and in a sense, argued for a weaker form of collective self-defense).

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