Thursday, May 13, 2010

Public at peace with Japan's constitution

Polls show the Japanese public are losing interest in constitutional reform.

On May 3, Japan’s constitution marked its 63rd anniversary since its promulgation in 1947 under the MacArthur Occupation. To date, the document has yet to be amended, although there has been much talk about it and a spate of activity in recent years, particularly under the LDP administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2006-7).

Every year, the major dailies on this day feature their own opinion polls on public attitudes toward the constitution and receptivity toward amending it. Although this year’s crop of polls by the Mainichi, Asahi, and Nikkei may vary slightly in the numbers, they all show strong support for the peace constitution and appreciation for its perceived contribution to the security of Japan nd the region. The polls also point to a trend in recent years of steady decline in public interest in changing the constitution, particularly the war-renouncing Article 9.

The Hatoyama government has quietly shelved debate on constitutional reform, despite the existence of a National Refendum Law coming into effect on May 18. Even more telling of the Democratic Party of Japan’s neglect of constitutional reform is the moribund state of constitutional examination committees (kenpou shinsakai) in both houses of the Diet. The panels have yet to meet since last September to fulfill their legal responsibility of setting up the procedures and rules for amending the constitution. Absent Diet debate on the subject, the Japanese public not surprisingly is paying less attention to this once hot-button issue in domestic politics. In fact, the Nikkei poll found 76% of Japanese unaware that procedures leading to constitutional reform would begin in May. Only 20% were savvy.

Mainichi’s poll, carried out April 17-18 as part of a general opinion survey, was the briefest, only asking respondents to give their opinion about whether they hoped to see the constitution amended or not. Views were split, with 50% saying “yes” and 48% saying “no.”

The Nikkei poll (March 3 edition, not on the Internet site) found 47% of the public supporting constitutional revision, the same level as in last year’s survey. It also found 40% of the public favoring keeping the Constitution just as it is. This was a 2-point rise from last year’s result. The gap is narrowing between those for and against amending the constitution.

In contrast, the opinion survey carried out by the Asahi also in mid-April, is more informative than the other two polls, underscoring a trend of eroding support for constitutional revision since the Abe administration. The survey found 47% of the general public in favor of amending the Constitution, with 39% against it. But this was a 10-point drop from the survey in 2007, Abe’s tenure, when positive views about constitutional revision accounted for 58% of the general public.

In the Asahi poll, the public was emphatic about Article 9, in which Japan renounces war and is barred from maintaining an armed force with war potential. Asked whether Article 9 should be changed, 67% said “no,” an increase of 3 points since the poll in 2008. But in the 2007 survey, only 49% were against Article 9 revision, with 33% favoring it. Since the 2008 survey, those negative about changing the article rose about 60%.

Asked in the current poll if they thought Article 9 was useful in maintaining peace in Japan and stability in the region, 70% answered affirmatively. Only 22% thought otherwise.

Picture from here.

William Brooks
Senior APP Fellow

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