For many years, hardly anyone in the West could remember the name of the Japanese prime minister. He changed too often. This is different today: Shinzo Abe is likely to become the longest-serving head of government in modern-day Japan this November. Also among the G7 bosses, who meet in France in August, the ruling since December 2012 Abe after Chancellor Angela Merkel is now the most experienced.
But Abe has not yet achieved his most important project: a change in the Japanese peace constitution. And if he is not mistaken, he will never succeed.
Ironically, under normal circumstances convincing victory in the Japanese upper house elections this weekend showed Abes borders. Although its Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has governed Japan since 1955 with few interruptions, won a solid majority of the seats available for election, a few less than before. That was important. For a few more mandates and Abe would have in the House of Lords a two-thirds majority, which requires it in both chambers of parliament as a prerequisite for a constitutional amendment. In the lower house Abe has this two-thirds majority. Any change must then also be confirmed in a referendum.
The American fathers of the post-war Japanese constitution of 1947 had deliberately set the barriers to changing the law. Especially as it forbids the Japanese in the famous Article 9 of the Constitution any warfare. Exactly this article wants to change Abe. By 2020, he gave himself time to take office six and a half years ago.
Are Abe’s efforts in vain?
“Japan is back,” he said at the time, wanting to initiate a revisionist turn: The Japanese should once again believe in the size of their nation, and their war crimes in World War II will be erased from the textbooks. “More than his very active foreign policy and his economic policies will remain historians for the genocidal denial of revisionism the salient feature of his term,” the Paris newspaper “Le Monde” ruled Abe’s re-election in 2017.
But are Abe’s efforts ultimately futile? Is the turnaround out? At least the current state of the constitutional discussion suggests. “Any kind of proposal for a constitutional amendment will be resumed at the earliest after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” writes Michael MacArthur Bosack, a former US Air Force officer in Japan, in the Japan Times.
Bosack mentions the crucial reason: “After almost seven years in office and several promises that he wants to bring the constitutional amendment to the next parliamentary session, Abe still has no consensus in the LDP on how to change the constitution,” Bosack said. Not a few LDP members are in favor of change as an expression of Japanese sovereignty, but not necessarily in controversial Article 9.
The outcome of a referendum would be unclear
But not only in its own ruling party Abe lacks the backing. The Buddhist Komei Party, the traditional coalition partner of the LDP, has many grassroots supporters at the grassroots level. In addition, Abe would in the future draw more small opposition parties in the House of Lords on his side in order to make a constitutional amendment even conceivable.
The outcome of a referendum would also be unclear: 40 percent of respondents in a poll by the daily newspaper “Asahi Shimbun” hoped that before the upper house elections there would be no two-thirds majority for a constitutional amendment. 37 percent were in favor. “At the moment, there is a lack of strong support for a constitutional change in public opinion,” said “Asahi Shimbun.”
Abe has not given up yet, but gives herself more time. By the end of his term as LDP chief in the fall of 2021, for which he has announced his resignation from all tasks, he now wants to rewrite the constitution. Because nothing should happen until the Tokyo Olympics in the late summer of 2020, he would only have one year left. But hardly anyone believes that so quickly a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament for a new constitution text can be found.
“The wisdom of the voters has prevented Japan from moving into unknown waters,” comments French geopolitologist Pascal Boniface, director of the Paris Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), to the SPIEGEL on the Japanese House of Lords elections. A Japanese wisdom that may cause the name Shinzo Abe to soon be forgotten in the West.