News / Asia

Japan PM's 'Stealth' Constitution Plan Raises Civil Rights Fears

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2013 photo)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2013 photo)
Reuters
Shinzo Abe makes no secret of wanting to revise Japan's constitution, which was drafted by the United States after World War II, to formalize the country's right to have a military - but critics say his plans go deeper and could return Japan to its socially conservative, authoritarian past.
       
Abe, 58, returned to office in December for a second term as prime minister and is enjoying sky-high support on the back of his "Abenomics'' recipe for reviving the economy through hyper-easy monetary policy, big spending and structural reform.
       
Now he is seeking to lower the hurdle for revising the constitution as a prelude to an historic change to its pacifist Article 9 - which, if strictly read, bans any military. That would be a symbolic shift, loosening restrictions on the military's overseas activities, but would have limited impact on defence as the clause has already been stretched to allow Tokyo to build up armed forces that are now bigger than Britain's.
       
However, sweeping changes proposed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a draft constitution would strike at the heart of the charter with an assault on basic civil rights that could muzzle the media, undermine gender equality and generally open the door to an authoritarian state, activists and scholars say.

Restrictions, restraints

"What I find strange is that although the prime minister is not that old, he is trying to revive the mores of his grandfather's era,'' said Ryo Motoo, the octogenarian head of  the Women's Article 9 Association, a group devoted to protecting the constitution. "I fear this might lead to a society full of restrictions, one that does not recognize diversity of opinions and puts restraints on the freedom of speech as in the past.''
       
Abe's grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was a pre-World War II cabinet minister who was arrested but never tried as a war criminal. Kishi served as premier from 1957-60, when he resigned due to a furor over a U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
       
Riding high in the opinion polls and buoyed by big stock market gains, Abe has grown more outspoken about his conservative agenda, including revising the constitution and being less apologetic about Japan's wartime past - a stance that has frayed already tense relations with China and South Korea, where memories of Tokyo's past militarism run deep.
       
Many Japanese conservatives see the constitution, unchanged since its adoption in 1947 during the U.S.-led Allied Occupation, as an embodiment of Western-style, individualistic mores they believe eroded Japan's group-oriented traditions.
      
Rights vs. duties
       
Critics see Abe's plan to ease requirements for revising the charter and then seek to change Article 9 as a "stealth'' strategy that keeps his deeper aims off the public radar.
       
"The real concern is that a couple of years later, we move to a redefinition of a 'new Japan' as an authoritarian, nationalist order,'' said Yale University law professor Bruce Ackerman.
       
The LDP draft, approved by the party last year, would negate the basic concept of universal human rights, which Japanese conservatives argue is a Western notion ill-suited to Japan's traditional culture and values, constitutional scholars say.
       
"The current constitution ... provides protection for a long list of fundamental rights - freedom of expression, freedom of religion,'' said Meiji University professor Lawrence Repeta. "It's clear the leaders of the LDP and certain other politicians in Japan ... are passionately against a system that protects individual rights to that degree.''
       
The draft deletes a guarantee of basic human rights and prescribes duties, such as submission to an undefined "public interest and public order''. The military would be empowered to maintain that "public order.''
       
One proposal would ban anyone from "improperly'' acquiring or using information about individuals - a clause experts say could limit freedom of speech. A reference to respect for the "family'' as the basic social unit hints, say critics, at a revival of a patriarchal system that gave women few rights.
       
"The constitution is there to tie the hands of government, not put duties on the people,'' said Taro Kono, an LDP lawmaker  often at odds with his party on policies. "There are some in both houses [of parliament] who don't really understand the role of a modern constitution.''
     
Written by humans
 
Abe and the LDP say easing the revision procedures would allow voters a bigger say in whether to alter the charter.
       
"The constitution is not something given by God, it was written by human beings. It should not be frightening to change it so I'd like the people to consider trying it once,'' Yosuke Isozaki, an aide to Abe, told the Nikkei business daily.
       
Under Article 96, changes to the constitution must be approved by at least two-thirds of both houses of parliament and then a majority of voters in a national referendum. Abe wants to require a simple majority of lawmakers before a public vote.
       
With Abe's popularity high and the main opposition splintered, the LDP and smaller pro-revision parties appear to have a shot at winning a two-thirds majority in an upper house election in July. They already hold two-thirds of the lower house.
       
"It's not as easy as it might appear,'' said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano. "But for the first time, it's a realistic prospect.''
       
Japan celebrates Constitution Day on Friday.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid