September 10, 2018 / 4:04 AM / 2 months ago

Japan's Abe aims for constitution change in bid for extended term

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, eyeing an historic extended term, reaffirmed on Monday his resolve to revise the nation’s post-war, pacifist constitution and said he hoped his party could submit a proposal to parliament later this year.

Japan's Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during a meeting on the LDP party leader election at the party's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Abe, who returned to office in December 2012 pledging to bolster defenses and reboot the economy, is widely expected to defeat his rival, former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, in a Sept. 20 election for leader of his Liberal Democratic Party.

Victory would give him another three-year term as LDP head and set him on track to become Japan’s longest serving premier, given the LDP-led ruling coalition’s grip on parliament.

Article 9 of the constitution, if taken literally, bans maintenance of armed forces but it has been interpreted to allow a military for self-defense.

Abe wants to add a reference to the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan’s military is known, to clarify their status.

That would be a largely symbolic change but one long sought by conservatives who see the U.S.-drafted constitution as a humiliating reminder of defeat in World War Two and opposed by critics who worry about expanding the SDF’s role overseas.

“Isn’t it the mission of us politicians living today to create an environment in which they (SDF members) can carry out their duties with a sense of pride?” Abe said in a televised speech to LDP members.

“Let’s fulfill our mission by clearly writing in the constitution the Self-Defense Forces that protect peace and independence of Japan,” he said.

Abe told a news conference he hoped the LDP could present its proposal to parliament in an extra session likely to be held later this year.

An attempt to revise the constitution would be politically risky. The public is divided and the LDP’s dovish partner, the Komeito, is wary. Amendments require approval of two-thirds of both houses of parliament and a majority in a referendum.

Abe, who met South Korean presidential envoy to North Korea Suh Hoon on Monday, reiterated he wants to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve the matter of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang’s agents decades ago.

In 2002, North Korea admitted that it kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. Japan believes 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated. Eight are said by North Korea to have died, while four never entered the country.

Abe also promised in his speech to strengthen Japan’s infrastructure over the next three years to withstand the sort of deadly disasters floods, landslides and earthquakes that have buffeted the country recently. He gave no details.

Editing by Michael Perry

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