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Policy Studies 19

Nine Lives?:
The Politics of Constitutional
Reform in Japan
J. Patrick Boyd and Richard J. Samuels

East-West Center

Page 2

East-West Center
The East-West Center is an internationally recognized education and
research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to
strengthen understanding and relations between the United States and
the countries of the Asia Pacific. Through its programs of cooperative
study, training, seminars, and research, the Center works to promote a
stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia Pacific community in which the
United States is a leading and valued partner. Funding for the Center
comes from the U.S. government, private foundations, individuals,
corporations, and a number of Asia Pacific governments.

East-West Center Washington
Established on September 1, 2001, the primary function of the East-
West Center Washington is to further the East-West Center mission
and the institutional objective of building a peaceful and prosperous
Asia Pacific community through substantive programming activities
focused on the theme of conflict reduction in the Asia Pacific region
and promoting American understanding of and engagement in Asia
Pacific affairs.

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The Politics of Constitutional Reform in Japan 35

1997 poll. With regard to Article Nine, the same Yomiuri poll noted that
55 percent of Diet members favored revision, up 14 points from the pre-
vious survey. On the central question of whether Japan should be allowed
to exercise the right to collective self-defense, 54 percent agreed while 40
percent opposed.60

What explains the tremendous rise of revisionist sentiment in the
Diet? Although many factors––including shifts in the regional balance of
power––are in play in the constitutional debate, we continue to find it
useful to focus on the enduring tripartite division among domestic forces.
We trace the rise of revisionism primarily to
three factors: the failure of leftist parties to
redefine themselves in a shifted political
landscape; national and party-level institu-
tional reforms that have strengthened the
role of the prime minister within the LDP
and in the policymaking process; and the leadership of the current prime
minister, Koizumi Junichir-o. In short, changes in partisanship, institu-
tions, and leadership have been critical drivers behind the rise of revision-
ism over the last decade. We now consider each in turn.

Why have leftist parties populated largely by pacifists suffered such
significant electoral defeats over the last decade? Surely this question
requires a complex answer. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the
collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 served in some general way to dis-
credit the left in the minds of Japanese voters. We disagree with this
interpretation. For one thing, the Japan Communist Party, certainly the
organization most identified with international communism, actually
gained seats in the Diet for years after the collapse of the Soviet Union
before suffering major defeats in the last few election cycles. Moreover,
leftist parties in other democracies, such as the Communist Party of Italy
or the Labor Party in Britain, were able to reinvent themselves success-
fully in the post-Cold War era.61 This development undermines the asser-
tion that the end of the Cold War spelled doom for leftist parties around
the globe.

Nor was the decline of the old left a direct result of the parties’ posi-
tions on Article Nine. Although the socialists unceremoniously discarded
their signature stance on the constitution while the communists stub-
bornly clung to theirs, the results have been the same. The SDPJ and the
JCP currently hold only eleven and eighteen seats, respectively, in the

What explains the tremen-

dous rise of revisionist senti-

ment in the Diet?

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36 J. Patrick Boyd and Richard J. Samuels

Diet. In our view this decline stemmed primarily from leadership failures.
For example, the seeds of the socialists’ collapse were sown long before the
end of the Cold War, when their leadership failed to defend the party’s
organizational base in the public-sector unions from Nakasone’s adminis-
trative reform drive.62 When these reforms precipitated the 1989 collapse
of S-ohy-o (General Council of Trade Unions in Japan), the largest public-
sector union, the socialists’ long kiss goodnight was already well along. As
international ideological divisions eased following the collapse of the
Soviet Union, leaders of the SDPJ and JCP repeatedly failed to seize the
opportunity to redefine themselves despite the availability of successful
models of “third way” politics from Britain, the United States, Italy, and
elsewhere. The final nail in the SDPJ coffin—Murayama’s disastrous deci-
sion to join the LDP in a coalition government in 1994—is a prime
example of this failure. When the JSP joined its erstwhile enemy in gov-
ernment without a strategy for maintaining its distinctiveness in the
minds of voters, the party’s demoralized base as well as nonaffiliated vot-
ers naturally looked elsewhere for an alternative to the LDP’s conservative
policies. The communists, too, have so far proved unable to hold onto
nonaffiliated (sometimes called “floating”) voters. In particular, their lead-
ers’ refusal to moderate long-held ideological positions has kept them
from cooperating with other opposition parties and relegated them to the
margins of national politics.63

The flip side of the decline of pacifist parties has been the rise of the
LDP as a genuinely revisionist party. We see this as a consequence of two
related factors. First, a series of institutional reforms has strengthened the
LDP party leadership––especially the power of the prime minister and
party president––at the expense of factional leaders and other power cen-
ters both inside and outside the party. And second, the current party lead-
ership, led by Prime Minister Koizumi, is the most popular group of revi-
sionists ever to have held power. There have been revisionist cabinets in the
past, of course, but neither Kishi Nobusuke, Fukuda Takeo, Nakasone
Yasuhiro, nor any other revisionist prime minister had ever enjoyed
Koizumi’s degree of centralized power or popular support. And Koizumi
has directed his strongly revisionist leadership on a course that has pushed
Article Nine to the political front burner for the first time in 50 years.

The institutional changes in question include electoral and campaign
finance reforms, changes in the LDP presidential election process, as well
as several other government and administrative reforms. Although it is still

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Policy Studies
A publication of the East-West Center Washington

Editor: Dr. Muthiah Alagappa

Policy Studies presents scholarly analysis of key contemporary domestic and interna-
tional political, economic, and strategic issues affecting Asia in a policy relevant man-
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spectives based on extensive fieldwork and rigorous scholarship.

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Page 98

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About this Issue

Japan is a vibrant democracy, but its citizens
have neither been given—nor have they
taken—responsibility for authoring their
own constitution. In 1889 the Emperor Meiji,
supported by a group of oligarchs, bestowed
an autocratic constitution upon his subjects.
Then, in 1947, the U.S. occupation forces
imposed a democratic constitution on the
defeated citizens of postwar Japan. While this
document has been the persistent object of
intense debate, it has never been amended.
But public opinion has shifted in favor of
revision. Both the ruling Liberal Democratic
Party (LDP) and the main opposition party,
the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), are
preparing constitutional drafts, and Japan is
in the midst of one of the most consequen-
tial tests of its democratic institutions.

Although the contemporary revision
debate encompasses a number of weighty
issues, including the role of the emperor and
basic rights of citizens, one passage in par-
ticular continues to cast a shadow over the
entire enterprise: Article Nine, the famous
“peace clause” renouncing the possession
and use of force for settling international
disputes. Long the primary target of revi-
sionist fervor, Article Nine was at the center
of the first serious revision debate in the
1950s and controversies arising from its
application again helped to ignite the con-
temporary revision movement after the Gulf
War in 1991.

Seen variously as an impediment to
national autonomy, national muscularity, and
national honesty, Article Nine has been con-
tinuously reinterpreted as the domestic and
international political landscapes have shifted.
This study examines why Article Nine has
survived without amendment for so long,
why it has returned to the political agenda
with such force in recent years, and how
debate over its revision will affect Japanese
domestic politics and foreign policy.

About the Authors
J. Patrick Boyd is a doctoral candidate in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He
can be contacted at [email protected] Richard J. Samuels is Ford International Professor of Political Science
and Director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He can
be contacted at [email protected]

ISBN 978-1-932728-37-8

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