Japan PM: Hard for now to revise arms-renouncing article of constitution

TOKYO (Reuters) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday it would be difficult for the time being to revise the armament-renouncing article of Japan’s pacifist constitution, an issue drawing attention as the July 10 upper house election approaches.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence for attending a meeting of relevant cabinet ministers to discuss Britain's exit from the European Union, in Tokyo, Japan, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Article 9 of the U.S.-drafted constitution renounces war and, if read literally, bans the maintenance of armed forces, although Japan’s military, called the Self-Defence Forces, has over 200,000 personnel and is equipped with high-tech weapons.

Revising the constitution is one of the key policy targets of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

“We are already making clear our view on the constitution, but it is parliament that needs to originate a proposal regarding what part of the constitution should be changed,” Abe told a TV debate program.

“In that sense, no agreement whatsoever has been reached, and I believe it is difficult under the current circumstances to revise article 9.”

The draft of the LDP’s proposed revision, unveiled in 2012, still renounces war but stipulates the maintenance of national defense forces and says Japan must be able to exercise the right of self defense - easing the constitutional constraint on military activities.

A poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily showed last month that 68 percent of Japanese wanted to keep Article 9 unchanged.

A formal amendment of the constitution requires approval by two-thirds of both houses of parliament as well as a majority in a referendum.

Newspaper surveys said on Friday Abe’s ruling bloc along with like-minded allies could get a two-third majority in the upper house as a result of the July election, in which half of the chamber’s 242 seats will be up for grabs.

Abe’s bloc, which comprises the LDP and junior coalition partner Komeito party, already has a two-thirds majority in the lower house.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Mark Heinrich