Japan's Abe seeks support for constitutional revision

In this April 29, 2018 photo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to journalists at the Prime minister's office in Tokyo. Abe, in a statement issued Tuesday, May 1, 2018, said he wants the status of Japan’s self-defense force spelled out as military, as he desperately seeks to take a crack at a revision. Opponents say it could expand Japan’s military role beyond its current limit. (Shin Kigeuchi/Kyodo News via AP)
A man takes photos of Tadae Takubo, academic and chairman of Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, delivering a speech during the annual rally on revising Japan's constitution organized by ruling party lawmakers in Tokyo Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and other supporters rallied Tuesday ahead of Thursday's Constitution Day holiday, when Japan's democratic and war-renouncing charter took effect 71 years ago. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a statement issued Tuesday, said he wants the status of Japan’s self-defense force spelled out as military, as he desperately seeks to take a crack at a revision. Opponents say it could expand Japan’s military role beyond its current limit. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Participants bow to the Japanese flag after singing the national anthem during the annual rally on revising Japan's constitution attended by lawmakers in Tokyo Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Lawmakers and other supporters gathered Tuesday ahead of Thursday's Constitution Day holiday, when Japan's democratic and war-renouncing charter took effect 71 years ago. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a statement issued Tuesday, said he wants the status of Japan’s self-defense force spelled out as military, as he desperately seeks to take a crack at a revision. Opponents say it could expand Japan’s military role beyond its current limit. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought public support Tuesday for his long-cherished goal of revising the country's war-renouncing constitution amid widening scandals that have hurt his government's popularity.

Abe said he wants Japan's Self-Defense Force to be officially recognized by the constitution as the country's military. Opponents say the revision could expand Japan's military role beyond current limits.

"Finally, it's time for us to tackle a revision to the constitution. And it's you, the people, who are to play the primary role," Abe said in a statement read by a senior member of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party at an annual campaign rally for charter change. Abe is currently traveling in the Middle East.

Public opinion has been split despite an expanded campaign to drum up support for constitutional amendment in recent years. Demands for change have been led mainly by Abe's party, not the public. Abe's ruling block holds the necessary two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament to propose a revision, but its junior partner, the Komei party, is reluctant to accept a charter change.

Japan's postwar constitution renounces the use of force in settling international conflicts, and limits the military to self-defense, although Japan has a well-equipped modern army, navy and air force that work closely with the U.S. The Self-Defense Force, established less than a decade after Japan's World War II defeat, was once controversial, but is now widely accepted as Japan's legitimate military.

Abe, after seeing his party's earlier proposal for a more drastic revision of the constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 fail to gain public support, began arguing that many Japanese scholars still consider the Self-Defense Force unconstitutional and that the constitution needs to be revised to spell out its legitimacy.

Earlier Tuesday, thousands of participants in a May Day rally opposed the proposed constitutional revision and demanded Abe's resignation over his suspected role in widening cronyism scandals.

Abe's ruling party and its nationalistic supporters, such as the powerful lobby Nippon Kaigi, have advocated constitutional revisions for years. They say the 1947 charter, imposed by U.S. occupation forces after Japan's World War II defeat, is outdated and its pacifist restrictions make Japan vulnerable to a growing security threat from North Korea.

Earlier amendments proposed by the ruling party in 2012 were intended to restore prewar values centering on the emperor and on placing the national interest above individual rights in some cases. Abe's current proposed change to Article 9 was adopted by the ruling party in March.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Find her work at https://www.apnews.com/search/mari%20yamaguchi

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