Last week, the Sankei Shimbun reported that, in the face of mounting public opposition, the LDP would in fact not put revising Article 96 of the constitution at the heart of its upper house campaign strategy. (Naturally, the next day Sankei published an editorial arguing that the LDP should make revising Article 96 central to the campaign as a matter of course.)
But is the LDP — and, more importantly, is Prime Minister Abe — actually backing away from their determination to use the upper house election to gain a mandate for revising Article 96? More importantly, does it matter?
At the very least, we’re probably seeing the emergence of what will likely be a persistent pattern should Abe remain in power. Abe and his lieutenants will talk about the need to revise the constitution, Komeito will express its unease about revision, what’s left of the left wing will sound the alarm, public opinion polls will reveal skepticism about revision, LDP grandees will suggest backing down…and rinse and repeat.
Barring a dramatic external shock, it is difficult to see how the politics of constitution revision will change in favor of revision. The bid to put revising Article 96 before more substantive revisions has done nothing to defuse opposition to revision. It seems unlikely that Komeito will become more enthusiastic about revision. Depending on the now-toxic Japan Ishin no kai to pass amendments is a non-starter, not least because it is unlikely they will win anywhere close to enough seats to help the LDP. Defending the constitution may be one of the few areas in which the Japanese left is still be able to mobilize citizens. It will presumably take some event that reveals the constitution to be woefully inadequate for coping with the challenges Japan faces — one of the arguments used by revisionists — for these political obstacles to vanish.
As long as Abe doesn’t pay any political costs for stumping for revision, there’s no reason to think he’ll back down entirely, even if from time to time constitution revision takes a back seat to other issues. But no matter how much Abe talks about revision, for the foreseeable future I have a hard time seeing how it will ever get traction. There are just too many people either skeptical about or completely opposed to changing the postwar constitution. More importantly, Japan’s conservatives are much better at preaching to (haranguing to?) the converted than winning new converts.