Japan's ruling party unveils draft constitution

Japan's Liberal Democratic Party marked its 50th anniversary Tuesday by unveiling a proposed revision to the country's pacifist constitution that would end the ban on possessing a military and give the armed forces a more assertive international role. The LDP, which has ruled Japan almost continuously since its founding in November 1955, also adopted a new party platform.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, addressing party loyalists assembled at a Tokyo hotel, credited the LDP with guiding Japan through a half-century of peace and prosperity.

But he urged Japan to match its weight as the world's second biggest economy by cooperating more with the international community, a reference to the LDP's planned overhaul of the constitution. "We need to take up the challenges of strife and conflict that may face international society over the next 50 years," Koizumi said.

Japan's constitution, drafted by U.S. occupation forces after World War II and unchanged since 1947,bars the country from employing military force in international disputes and prohibits it from having a military for warfare.

But Japan has interpreted the constitution to mean it can maintain a 240,000-strong Self-Defense Force to protect itself.

The proposed LDP revision keeps the clause renouncing war, but clearly stipulates Japan may keep a military force for self-defense and for participating in international peacekeeping efforts. "In addition to activities needed for self defense ... the defense forces can take part in efforts to maintain international peace and security under international cooperation, as well as to keep fundamental public order in our country," the draft says.

The change is part of a general push by Koizumi's government to give Japan a larger military and diplomatic profile in the world. The LDP has long campaigned to replace the U.S.-drafted constitution with Japan's own and made establishing a new one the first item in its new platform, also unveiled Tuesday.

"We'll never wage a war, but we should clearly state a possession of troops for self-defense so they're not misunderstood as unconstitutional," Koizumi said last month.

The draft constitution also weakens provisions on the separation of church and state, saying the public institutions may engage in religious activity "in cases within the boundary of social rituals and customary activities."

The present charter totally bans the state from religious activity. Tokyo's relations with Beijing and Seoul have become strained in recent months over Prime Minister Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates Japan's war dead. Critics say the visits glorify militarism.

Finally, the LDP's draft would also make it easier to amend the constitution, requiring only majorities in both houses of parliament to endorse a change instead of the current two-thirds.

But the requirement for a majority of the population to endorse any amendments in a national referendum would remain unchanged. Neither the existing law nor the LDP's draft stipulates the procedures for such a referendum.

The government must first enact special legislation outlining these procedures before proceeding with changes to the constitution, which has not been amended since it was established in 1947. The LDP will discuss the proposed changes with its junior coalition partner, the New Komei Party, as well as opposition leaders. New Komei head Takenori Kanzaki, who also attended Tuesday's LDP meeting, said his party will come up with its own position on the constitution proposal by next November, reports the AP. I.L.

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