Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he still aims to bring about the first-ever amendment of Japan's pacifist constitution by 2020, even as parliamentary discussions over the issue have ground to a halt amid a standoff between the ruling and opposition parties.
"There is no change in my hope to see a new constitution take effect in 2020," Abe said Monday during a press conference held at the conclusion of an extra Diet session in which his Liberal Democratic Party failed to present its amendment proposals.
The LDP is now expected to seek to present the proposals in the 150-day ordinary Diet session likely to be convened in late January, but the delay is expected to make it difficult for a formal constitutional amendment process to start before the upper house election in the summer.
In May 2017, Abe, whose long-cherished goal is to rewrite the post-World War II constitution, sought to jump-start discussions on the issue by proposing a revision of the war-renouncing Article 9, saying that he wants to see the new supreme law take effect by 2020.
The LDP in March this year came up with a set of amendment plans based on Abe's proposals. One amendment adds an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9, an addition aimed at ending the debate over the constitutionality of Japanese troops.
Abe had hoped that the LDP's proposals would be submitted during the extraordinary Diet session that started in late October, and for further discussions to be held with opposition parties.
But an intensifying confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties over a bill aimed at accepting more foreign workers into Japan made it difficult for lawmakers to engage in full-fledged and highly-sensitive constitutional discussions.
During Monday's press conference, the prime minister, who doubles as LDP president, stressed the importance of deepening debate on the issue and involving various parties so that the public can make its judgment on the matter.
"I expect a broad consensus to be formed as much as possible across ruling and opposition parties," he said.
The prime minister also sought public support over the passage of the bill to create new visa statuses for foreign workers, with the bill delayed until the early hours of Saturday amid resistance from opposition parties which have criticized the government for being too hasty and insufficiently prepared in creating the new scheme.
"We will immediately build a proper system (to accept workers)," Abe said, noting that the government will unveil a set of measures to help the new entrants settle into communities later in the month.
The Japanese constitution, which was written during the U.S.-led post-World War II occupation, has never been revised since coming into effect in 1947, nor has a bid been made to initiate a formal amendment process, partly because of the high hurdle in proposing an amendment in parliament.
The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition, as well as other pro-constitutional reform forces, currently have two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Diet, satisfying the minimum requirement needed to initiate an amendment. The proposal must then be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum.
A senior LDP lawmaker has said parliamentary discussions on amendment proposals cannot be completed in a single Diet session and that the LDP will now aim to initiate the process in the next extraordinary session in fall next year.
The Komeito party, which is known for its dovish stance on security issues, has been reluctant to rush any constitutional revisions.