Constitutional revision in Japan: Why change is hard to come by

Jeffrey W. Hornung

Publications Constitutional revision in Japan: Why change is hard to come by

This commentary originally was published in Foreign Affairs on July 26, 2016. Read the full version here.


Nihon_Kenpo constitutionOn July 10, Japanese voters went to the polls to choose representatives to fill half the seats in the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan’s legislature. The election broke the mold in a number of respects. For the first time in Japan‘s history, 18- and 19-year-olds were allowed to vote. Also unprecedented: when the ballots were counted, two sitting cabinet members lost their seats in the upper house and a record number of female lawmakers had been elected to the chamber. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition, made up of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the pacifist party Komeito, emerged victorious, expanding its majority in the 242-member body by 11 seats.

Of all these developments, the most significant is the edge gained by Abe’s coalition. Critics argue the prime minister might use his newfound advantage to attempt to loosen Article 9 of Japan’s constitution—the so-called peace clause—which bans the country from waging war and has been the cornerstone of Tokyo’s foreign policy for decades. In the weeks since the election, it is this possibility that has drawn the most attention from foreign observers. Yet the road from Abe’s electoral victory to constitutional change is not as straight or certain as many Japan watchers have suggested.


Continue reading this commentary in Foreign Affairs here.



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