While much of Japan was enjoying the extended holiday of Golden Week this year, supporters of Article 9, the war-renouncing clause of Japan's constitution, were hard at work. The first Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War drew 15,000 people to its plenary session and concert outside of Tokyo on May 4, while 7,000 gathered on May 5 to participate in a day of symposiums and workshops. The crowds far surpassed the expectations of the organizers, who hastily staged an ad hoc rally in a nearby park for several thousand people who were unable to get into the main arena on the first day.
An affiliated conference in Hiroshima on May 5 drew 1,100 participants, and on May 6 another large arena in Osaka was filled with 8,000 people while 2,500 attended a fourth conference in Sendai. Overall, organizers counted more than 30,000 admissions to the series of events.
The Looming Threat to Article 9
The gatherings took place at a time when Article 9 faces the most serious threat of being abandoned since the postwar constitution was enacted in 1947. Prior to leaving office abruptly last September, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo—who had made revising the constitution the paramount goal of his administration—pushed a bill through the Diet that provides for national referendums on constitutional changes. The law, which takes effect in May 2010, started the clock ticking toward a showdown.
With this date in mind, the revision camp formed the Diet Members Alliance to Establish a New Constitution in the spring of 2007 with the explicit goal of "placing constitutional revision on the political schedule." The alliance now counts 239 current and former members of the Diet in its ranks. Although the overwhelming majority are Liberal Democratic Party members, the group includes 14 members from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, including party secretary-general Hatoyama Yukio, vice-president Maehara Seiji, and supreme advisor Fujii Hirohisa.
The alliance held its own meeting in Tokyo on May 1, where Abe repeated his hallmark call to action: "The determination to write a constitution of our own is a spirit that will open up a new era." Japanese conservatives deride the constitution as having been imposed on the country by the post-defeat US occupation, and (together with their present-day American allies) single out Article 9 as a constraint on Japan's full participation in the strong and deepening military alliance with the US.
This constraint was dramatically highlighted on April 17, when the Nagoya High Court ruled that the dispatch of Japan's Air Self-Defense Force to Iraq violates Article 9. Transporting armed troops into a combat zone, the court ruled, constituted "the use of force as a means of settling international disputes," which is explicitly renounced in Article 9. In essence, the court repudiated the government's decades-long practice of "interpreting" the constitution to allow a steady expansion of the capacity and role of Japan's armed forces within the framework of American power.
The unprecedented ruling, however, came in the text of the decision and carried no provision for enforcement. It thus left the status quo intact, and the government doggedly pledged to continue the mission to Iraq. Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo declared, "I have no intention of doing anything in response."
Partly in backlash against Japan's first-ever dispatch of the SDF to an overseas combat zone, public support for Article 9 has revived from the postwar lows registered earlier in the decade. In a poll released by the liberal Asahi Shimbun on May 3, 66% of the public favored retaining Article 9, while only 23% supported its revision. This represented a 17% increase in support for Article 9 over a similar poll conducted a year ago. Some polls show majorities in favor of amending other clauses of the constitution, but when the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun conducted its annual poll on the subject in March, it found that support for revision in general had also lost its plurality (42.5% for and 43.1% against) for the first time in 15 years, while revising Article 9 was opposed by a margin of 60% to 31%.
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