The vast majority in the Upper House obtained on Sunday at the polls by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), the formation of assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, confirmed this Monday by the official results, opens the door to a historic change in Japan : the beginning of the end of pacifism imposed by the victors of World War II on a defeated nation. The country that the Hiroshima and Nagashaki bombs ended up bringing to its knees was forced to enact a Constitution in 1946 that even today prohibits any act of war. Ending what a part of the Japanese perceives as an anachronism was one of Abe’s objectives until his assassination last Friday. This Monday, his successor, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, assumed that controversial legacy and promised to finish the “unfinished tasks” of his predecessor: among them, changing the Basic Law of the country to increase its military capabilities.
“The problems that he could not solve, I will make mine,” Kishida promised at a press conference after confirming that the PLD won 63 seats in the elections, more than half of the 125 that were renewed on Sunday. Its coalition partner, the Buddhist Komeito, won 13 seats, giving both parties a total of 76, which added to the 70 they have in the other half of the Upper House —every three years the 50% of the seats—expand the ruling coalition’s majority to 146 out of 248. These election results are the best for the PLD since 2013.
“Our goal was to secure the majority and we have surpassed it”, congratulated Kishida, who interpreted the results as a sign that the Japanese see that they are “entering a turning point” with “the greatest crisis after the war” world, alluding to the conflict in Ukraine. This majority in the upper house of the PLD and its allies, added to their control of the most powerful lower house, allows the start of the process of the long-awaited constitutional reform by the late Abe. The party of the former prime minister, together with his government partner and other small formations favorable to this change, gather 177 seats, more than two thirds (166) necessary to approve the amendment to the Magna Carta, which must then be submitted to a popular referendum.
The revision of the Basic Law “has been one of the points of the PLD program since its foundation” in 1955, recalled Kishida, who announced that they will share “with the nation a road map” on a change whose origin is unrelated to the invasion Russia from Ukraine, but which does appear to have been catalyzed by that war and by Chinese expansionism and Beijing’s increased military presence in the region.
Many Japanese, like Abe himself, believe that the Constitution leaves them defenseless. The Japanese military cannot even be defined as “armed forces”, but as Self-Defense Forces and, according to the supreme law of the country, cannot carry out offensives or declare war. Nor participate in international conflicts. More than half of those polled in a June poll by the Jiji Press news agency, quoted by Reuters, advocated increasing defense spending. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said Japan should acquire missiles with enough range to attack foreign enemy bases.
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The tendency of a part of Japanese society to leave constitutional pacifism behind has also been applauded by the United States. His Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, arrived in Tokyo on Monday to express Washington’s condolences for the attack that killed the former head of government, whose “great merits” were praised by the head of US diplomacy.
Popular support for the constitutional amendment does not prevent it from remaining controversial in Japan. Fumio Kishida, perceived as a warmonger by the still-wide section of Japanese peace activists, is considered a moderate by the hardliners of his party. Originally from Hiroshima, the prime minister advocates banning nuclear weapons and has applied policies in support of the middle classes that have stirred up his conservative co-religionists who, along the lines of Abe, defend neoliberal policies. The promise to increase defense spending to 2% of GDP could, according to several analysts, bring Kishida closer to this sector of the LDP and consolidate him as the successor to the prime minister assassinated in Nara, some 500 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, while participating in an impromptu campaign rally.
The violent death of Abe – the man who shot him is in custody – does not by itself explain the success at the polls of his party, hegemonic in Japanese politics for decades, but it may have promoted the constitutional reform project that it was so expensive. The memory of the former prime minister is still very present in the country, as evidenced by the tributes to his figure, not only at the place of his assassination, in front of a train station in Nara, but also at the headquarters of his party or in front of his own residence. in Tokyo. “He was a great leader, we lost a great leader,” lamented his successor. This Monday, his family and his loved ones will mourn him at a private funeral.