Monday March 5, 2001
Masako Owaki

Democracy in Japan

Focusing on the Discussion on the Japanese Constitution



I sincerely welcome the participants from Socialist International to this symposium and am so glad to be given the opportunity to report to this session.

A theme I would like to take up regarding "enhancing common actions in support of democracy", is the current situation surrounding the Constitution in Japan. The Research Commission on the Constitution was set up with the revision of the Diet Law in July 1999, both in the House of Representatives and in the House of Councilors. This Commission has been in session since January 2000, where discussion has been conducted on various issues with regard to the existing Japanese Constitution. However, we are at a critical juncture since the contents and directions of the discussion have clearly indicated a situation which could distort the democracy of Japan guaranteed by the Constitution.

I would like to address the process of the enactment of the Japanese Constitution, the status of the Research Commission on the Constitution and the future agenda below.

1. The Enactment of the Japanese Constitution and Thereafter

The 20th century, named "the century of war" witnessed two world wars. International wars trampled upon the lives and human rights of many people thus destroying their lives.

Preamble of the Japanese Constitution declares loud and clear the building of a peaceful nation based on popular sovereignty, reflecting deeply over the horrors of war. "We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationships, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving people of the world." This statement ensures that "We recognize that all people of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want."

Article 9 of the Chapter II. "Renunciation of War" denies clearly the use of force and the right of belligerency of the state by stating that "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized." Over these 50 years since its enactment, Article 9 has nurtured a culture which does not give priority to the military. As a result, Japan which is a victim of the atomic-bomb during the war has supported as its national policy "Three Non-Nuclear Principles" -not possessing, not manufacturing and not allowing the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan, and the export prohibition of weapons.

Article 9 has played an active role in post-war rehabilitation and economic development in Japan. It is obvious that the growth in military expenditure will hamper economic development. Meanwhile, using its own interpretation that Japan is allowed to maintain a minimum level of force for self-defense, the Japanese government has expanded its Self-Defense Force with the second largest budget in the world. However, since the enactment of the Japanese Constitution, never has Japan waged war as a sovereign right of the nation, nor has Self-Defense Forces killed even a single citizen abroad. I think this is not only because Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution has effectively imposed a normative constraint but also because "pro-constitutionalists" have supported Article 9 in their desire to preserve the Peace Constitution.

2. Discussion at Research Commission on the Constitution

Lately in Japan, opinion has been more strongly voiced for amending Article 9 for reasons such as a change in international politics. Amendments to the Constitution calls for a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and they are to be submitted to the people for ratification. This requires the support of the majority.

Discussion points which have been taken up so far in the Research Commission on the Constitution includes how Japan should be, in other words "stance of Japan". Hearings were held from expert witnesses and free discussion was conducted among members. Moreover, as part of an observation tour abroad, members of House of the Representatives went to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and Finland, and members of the House of Councilors went to the United States.

What is most notable about the discussion is that the Commission has been run as if to "amend" the existing Constitution in spite of its specified purpose of "broad and comprehensive research". Their aim is an extension of "national campaign" conducted by those who advocate amendment to the Constitution. As part of their "national campaign" they have compiled history textbooks for junior high schools to instill in the young generation a historical view in which they have projected the existing Constitution as imposed by the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers after World War Two. They have unduly played up the tradition and culture of the Japanese people and have glorified the warfare of Japan. The people who have played central roles in compiling these textbooks attended as expert witnesses showing their strong repulsion against ideas of feminism and human rights. This speaks volumes about the direction and contents of amendment to the Constitution.

These developments reminded me that neighboring countries in Europe and Socialist International expressed their strong criticism when in Austria Mr. Haider who leads the right-extremist party which encourages exclusionism, participated in the coalition government.

3. Our challenges

In order to hand over the 21st century to the younger generation as "a century of peace" we believe that we should reconfirm the pioneering role of the Japanese Constitution and its significance. I think it is very meaningful that Japan has maintained peace while conducting international cooperation under our Peace Constitution over these past 50 years.

In discussing democracy, I believe that the right to live in peace upheld by the Japanese Constitution should be conveyed as a universal right in 21st the century. In May, 1999, the citizen's agenda for the Hague Appeal for Peace demanded ten fundamental principles for a just world order. The first of which states that "Every parliament should adopt a resolution prohibiting their government from going to war, like the Japanese Article Number 9." Those who advocate amendment to the Constitution have emphasized a contribution to the international community in blood and sweat. However, I am strongly opposed to "blood". A non-military contribution or "sweat", diplomacy based on dialogue and confidence building should be established. I am sure that the farsighted concept that the Japanese Constitution upholds as an ideal should be handed down to the 21st century.

Through a creative policy for peace, promotion of world disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons should be addressed especially in Asia as an important agenda. I believe in "the Northeast Asia Nuclear-free Zone" set forth by the Social Democratic Party Leader Takako Doi. By spreading this concept, I think "human security" can be realized in the world.

In conclusion

The Social Democratic Party has been consistent in upholding ideas of "putting the Constitution into practice in our daily lives" and "making the Constitution part of our daily lives in an active manner" in order to appeal to the people the significance of the Peace Constitution. Since the Constitution is now in danger, we should fulfill our role demanded by the Constitution which have been based upon well-thought out ideas. Thank you very much for your kind attention.