Sunday, June 23, 2024

LDP Drops Constitutional Amendment in This Session

They were not enthusiastic anyway

By Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
June 17, 2024. Special to Asia Policy Point

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) gave up submitting a draft constitutional amendment to the Diet by the end of current session on June 23. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had announced that he would move forward with the amendment within his term as president of the LDP, which expires at the end of September. It is now unlikely that he can fulfill this commitment. Conservatives in the party will criticize him for this, adding to the challenges that his reelection campaign faces.

It was during his campaign for the LDP presidency in the fall of 2021 that Kishida promised a constitutional amendment. In the press conference at which he announced his candidacy, Kishida declared that he hoped to finish the amendment within his term ending September 2024. “Amendment of the Constitution should be surely promoted to deal with changes in our time,” said Kishida.

Having been a member of the dovish LDP faction, Kochi-kai, Kishida was not known as a major proponent of a constitutional amendment. In his bid for support from LDP conservatives, whose votes would control election results, Kishida emphasized the amendment as one of his core policies. His approach was to incorporate “realism” to cope with political reality.

Leaving negotiation over the policy to the Diet members of the LDP, Kishida repeated that he would do his best to complete the amendment within three years. In his policy speech at the beginning of current ordinary session of the Diet in January, Kishida insisted that he would release a draft and accelerate discussions to bridge the differences of parties.

The LDP focused on adding an emergency clause to the Constitution in the current session of the Diet, which would extend the term of members of the Lower House in a state of emergency. In April, the LDP proposed establishing a drafting committee in the Commission on the Constitution of the House of Representatives.

However, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) opposed the formation of a drafting committee. CDP members of the Commission argued that the lawmakers who had been involved in the slush fund scandal should be ineligible to participate in discussions over the constitutional amendment. Several LDP members would be disqualified.

Given the resistance of the opposition parties, the LDP considered submitting a draft to the Diet with the approval only of proponents of the amendment, such as the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), Komeito, and the Democratic Party for the People. The LDP leaders decided not to pursue that option because it would have undermined work on Kishida’s highest priority – amendment of the Political Funds Control Act. The LDP finally gave up on a constitutional amendment in the current session.

The required timeline and prerequisites for a constitutional amendment work against Kishida. Submission of a draft of a constitutional amendment requires the approval of over 100 members in the Lower House and 50 in the Upper House. A two-thirds majority in both houses is then necessary to hold a national referendum. A referendum will occur 60 to 180 days after the Diet’s approval. A simple majority of the popular vote is all that is needed to formally amend the constitution.

To meet these deadlines by the end of his presidential term, Kishida must obtain the Diet’s approval in July at the latest. But Kishida still plans to close the Diet session in June without extension to avoid further inquiries into the slush fund scandal. Kishida thus cannot live up to his campaign promise of three years ago.

The conservatives in the LDP, led partly by Ishin, moved so hastily on proposing an amendment that they failed to achieve a broad consensus. The proposed drafting committee and the idea of a draft amendment stiffened the resolve of the opposition parties. Article 54 of the Constitution empowers the Cabinet to convene a special session of the Upper House in a national emergency. Upper House members, including from Komeito, are skeptical of any amendment, because the Diet can work during an emergency with a special session, even if the Lower House members are absent.

One of the ranking members of the Lower House commission, Gen Nakatani, revealed his private “draft” in the commission’s meeting on June 13. His proposal defined an emergency as an “election difficulty situation,” such as a natural disaster, pandemic, or armed attack. The draft would have extended the term of the Lower House members for as long as six months to a year.

However, Nakatani’s idea received no buy-in from the other parties. His draft is unclear about who would declare an election difficulty situation. There could be room for extending terms in the Lower House in the event of significant weather conditions or infectious diseases, although the prior approval of a two-third majority of both Houses would be essential.

The conservatives in the LDP who have been the driving force behind the constitutional amendment are affiliated with the former Abe faction. But the faction was dissolved after the slush fund scandal and lost political power. Kishida can safely ignore any pressure from this faction to pursue the amendment.

However, Kishida has shown a decline of his own political power over his efforts to amend the Political Funds Control Act. In a mid-June Asahi Shimbun pollthe approval rate for Kishida Cabinet was 22 percent, the lowest level of his administration, and support for the LDP marked new record low of 19 percent.

Frustrated conservatives may turn to another candidate in the presidential election. There appear to be various moves in the LDP to discuss power sharing after the Diet is adjourned and after the LDP presidential election. Kishida’s chances for reelection are shrinking.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Intelligent comments and additional information welcome. We are otherwise selective.