Changes in Political Parties’ Emphasis on the Constitution Analyzed Prior to Elections in Japan


The National Diet Building (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO — A study ahead of the July 10 House of Councilors election of common keywords that have appeared in past election campaign promises has shed light on the varied positions of Japanese political parties on Japan’s Constitution over the of the last decade.

The analysis was conducted by Airo Hino, 47, a professor at Waseda University, and Robert Fahey, 41, an assistant professor at the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study. Using text analysis, the two examined the proportion of certain keywords in campaign promises in four lower house elections and four upper house elections between 2012 and 2022, covering a total of 11 topics, ranging from the Constitution to the economy.

Until the 2013 House of Councilors election, there were no notable differences between the proportion of constitutional topics in the campaign promises of the main ruling party and the largest opposition party. . In the 2012 House of Representatives election, which was held under the former Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration, constitutional issues accounted for 1.4% of the subjects of campaign of the DPJ and 2.6% of those of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In the 2013 upper house election after the inauguration of Shinzo Abe’s second administration, after the LDP returned to power for the first time in more than three years, constitutional issues accounted for 5.0 % of the promises of the LDP and 4.6% of those of the DPJ.

Waseda University professor Airo Hino, right, and Waseda Institute for Advanced Studies assistant professor Robert Fahey are seen in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo on June 30, 2022. (Mainichi/Tsuyoshi Goto)

Then Prime Minister Abe, who died in a shooting on July 8 this year, proposed revising Article 96, which spells out procedures for constitutional amendment. The LDP’s pledge for the 2013 upper house election campaign clearly referred to a plan to revise the Japanese Constitution. The project, announced in April 2012, was very conservative in nature and provided for the establishment of a “national defense army”. The party vowed that it would “return the Constitution into the hands of the Japanese people”.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Communist Party claimed in its 2013 upper house election pledge that it would “stop attempts to revise Article 96, which would rob the Constitution of its constitutional nature.” The proportion of subjects related to the Constitution presented by the party reached 24.4%.

The Social Democratic Party also criticized the proposed revision of Article 96 as an action “destroying the essence of a ‘Constitution based on constitutionalism'”, and the subject accounted for 11.6% of the issues mentioned in its campaign promise.

The figures indicate that political parties advocating the protection of the Constitution have reacted strongly against Abe’s measures.

It was during the race for the upper house in 2016 that a huge gap opened up between the weight given to the subject in the promises of the PLD and the opposition parties. This came amid a clash between ruling and opposition parties over Article 9 of the Constitution renouncing war.

In July 2014, the Abe administration issued a Cabinet decision allowing Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defence, which means it can defend a third country under enemy attack, even if Japan itself is not attacked. By the Cabinet decision, the government has effectively changed its interpretation of section 9 of the Constitution.

In this September 17, 2015, image taken during a meeting of the Select Committee on Peace Security Legislation of the House of Councillors, members of the committee from the ruling parties clash with those from the opposition parties who are trying to obstruct the rolling of a national security bill. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

In September 2015, security legislation that paved the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense was enacted despite calls from five opposition parties, including the DPJ, for the bill to be dropped.

During the 2016 upper house election, the Democratic Party (DP), which emerged from the DPJ, reserved a remarkably more prominent place for the Constitution in its campaign commitment, the subject representing 14.6% of the questions. The party underscored its distrust by stating that “constitutionalism and pacifism are in danger”.

On the other hand, the LDP gave little weight to the subject, references to the Constitution representing only 1.5% of all campaign promises. The ruling LDP has apparently avoided making the Constitution a central issue amid criticism from opposition parties, partly out of consideration for its junior coalition partner Komeito, who takes a cautious stance on constitutional amendment.

The LDP’s initiatives for constitutional reform were in full swing after its victory in the 2016 upper house and 2017 lower house elections, in which opposition parties focused their attention on constitutional issues .

In March 2018, the LDP compiled a four-point vision, such as adding the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Article 9 and creating an emergency clause. In its campaign pledge for the next year’s upper house election, the party insisted it would “further strengthen efforts to achieve the nation’s First Constitutional Amendment”. In the LDP’s campaign pledge for the 2019 elections, references to the Constitution accounted for 7.3% of the pledge – a significant increase from the 2017 lower house elections.

In the October 2021 elections to the House of Representatives held under the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the proportion of statements related to the Constitution in the LDP’s engagement accounted for 2.9% of all topics. Although Kishida was the leader of the LDP Kouchikai peace group, he was apparently aware of Abe, who led the ruling party’s largest faction.

In the LDP’s pledge for the upcoming upper house elections on July 10, the proportion of constitutional references rose to 4.6%. Although the party previously said it would “aim at constitutional reform”, it has now changed its vow to state that it will “carry out constitutional reform at an early stage”.

The Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin, JIP) has multiplied its declarations relating to the Constitution, the proportion increasing from 2.1% in its electoral platform of the lower house of 2017 to 10.3% in its promises for this election to the upper room.

The PIJ aims to distinguish itself from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and become the largest opposition party, as the latter remains cautious about constitutional reform. The JIP positions itself in the pro-revision camp, alongside the LDP, the Komeito and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP).

The DPFP, which also descends from the DPJ, along with the CDP, devoted only 2.5% of its electoral promise to constitutional issues for the July 10 upper house election.

University of Tokyo professor Kenneth Mori McElwain is seen in this photo from July 4, 2022. (Mainichi/Isamu Gari)

University of Tokyo professor Kenneth Mori McElwain, who specializes in comparing the constitutions of different countries, pointed out that the PIJ’s growing proportion of constitutional references in its campaign promises “has the connotation of appealing to people with opinions that are right of center among non-PLD supporters.” As to why the PLD has allocated less than 10% of its pledges to the subject despite its ambition to advance constitutional reform, he said: “If the debate on the revision of the Constitution advances too much, it will stimulate the opposition -camp of constitutional reform. The LDP is also showing consideration not to provoke its junior coalition partner, the Komeito.

(Japanese original by Tsuyoshi Goto, Ran Kanno, Isamu Gari and Hiroyuki Tanaka, Digital News Center)


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