Dilemma for Abe if Constitution wins Peace Prize

Updated: 2014-08-19 06:52

By Cai Hong(China Daily)

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Michio Hamaji voted for Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party at the general election in December 2012 but there has been a twist since then. Hamaji, a Japanese businessman, 72, supports Abe's economic policies, dubbed Abenomics, but does not hold with Abe's vision of changing the country's Constitution.

Early this year Hamaji initiated a campaign to protect Japan's Constitution and came up with the idea of nominating it for the Nobel Peace Prize. Japan's Constitution, which came into effect in 1947, formally renounces war and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

"If the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 to the European Union, why not Japan's Constitution; the world's only pacifist one?" Hamaji said.

Hamaji's 10-year stay in the Middle East, where he made his fortune in oil, exposed him to the constant conflict between Israel and Palestine. This experience reinforced his belief that his country should never again become involved in any conflict or war.

Hamaji has been soliciting support both at home and abroad for his campaign. Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, replied to his e-mail within 24 hours and expressed his support. Among the 60 Japanese lawmakers who are standing by him are former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan and the leader of the Social Democratic Party Tadatomo Yoshida.

That Japan, under the Abe administration, is tilting sharply to the right has alarmed many Japanese, and their awareness of and attention to the country's Constitution have grown over the past 20 months. And with their alarm growing following Abe's decision on July 1 to reinterpret Japan's Constitution to allow Japan's Self-Defense Forces to fight alongside Japan's allies such as the US if they are attacked, people are turning to books on the Constitution to reacquaint themselves with what it is all about.

Publishing houses and bookstores have raked in huge profits thanks to the rising interest in the issue. That's the "Constitution of Japan!" a comic co-authored by manga artist Fujio Akatsuka and Constitution scholar Kenichi Nagai, was reprinted last year, the first time in more than a decade. And lawyers, such as those from the Association of Young Lawyers Defending Tomorrow's Freedoms, are giving classes at cafes and restaurants for those who want to learn more about the Constitution. They don't want to leave the issue up to the politicians and don't buy the decision by the Abe Cabinet.

But to keep their country's "Peace Constitution" intact, Hamaji and his like-minded people have a tough job ahead. People in Abe's camp are speeding up their attempts to introduce a new Constitution. The Asashi Shimbun reported that 19 out of 43 prefectural assemblies have passed statements asking Japan's parliament to revise the Constitution.

Japan Conference, one of the country's conservative groups and close to Abe, stands behind these petitions. It is expected to use these papers, though not legally binding, as the barometer of local residents' opinion to push the Abe Cabinet and parliament to rewrite the Constitution.

The proposal for a new Constitution needs consent from at least two-thirds of lawmakers in the two chambers of the Japanese parliament and must be endorsed by a majority of voters in a national referendum. The ruling coalition - the LDP and the new Komeito - control comfortable majorities in the two chambers. So the referendum would be the real test.

Japan's parliament revised the referendum law in June, lowering the minimum voting age from 20 to 18.

With 47 prefectural and some 230 municipal chapters working throughout the country, Japan Conference is expected to lobby more local assemblies for petitions asking for the Constitution to be reformed.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner is to be announced in October.

If Japan's Constitution is the winner, it will place Abe in a dilemma: If he goes to Oslo, he will not be able to tamper with the constitution. If he doesn't go, he will show the world his true colors.

The author is China Daily's Tokyo bureau chief. caihong@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily USA 08/19/2014 page11)