Japan passes bill to amend pacifist constitution
Key step towards once again intensifying Japan's military role
Japan's lower house of parliament on Friday approved guidelines for amending the pacifist constitution, a key step in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to give the military a larger global role.
The vote came after members of the LDP and coalition partner New Komei Party pushed the legislation through a lower house panel meeting Thursday despite calls for more debate by the opposition.
A national referendum is needed to amend the constitution, and the new legislation maps out how such a referendum can be carried out.
The measure approved Friday sets up panels in both the lower and upper houses of parliament to review drafts of proposed amendments.
The legislation also calls for discussion of a proposal to lower the voting age from 20 to 18 years.
Debated constitutional change for decades
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is strengthening military cooperation with theU.S. and requiring schools to teach patriotism, has campaigned to loosen the constitution's limits on military action.
The constitution bans the use of military force as a means of settling international disputes, and special legislation is needed for Japanese soldiers to participate in peacekeeping and other missions abroad.
Though Japan has debated constitutional change off and on for decades, polls show that support for an amendment has declined recently. Polls by Yomiuri newspaper show support for an amendment dropping this year for the third year in a row. Still, 46 per cent of respondents favour revisions while 39 per cent favour no change, according to the poll. No margin of error was given.
Many Japanese credit the charter's pacifist clause with keeping the country out of war since 1945, preventing a resurgence of wartime militarism and allowing Japan to focus on becoming wealthy.
Abe and supporters, however, argue that Japan needs to take more responsibility in maintaining global peace and security. The country dispatched troops on a humanitarian mission to Iraq in 2004-2006, the first time since the Second World War that Japanese soldiers have entered a combat zone.