Parties split over relaxing requirement for constitutional revision

Japanese political parties were split Thursday on the issue of whether to relax a parliamentary requirement for holding a national referendum on revising the Constitution.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party and two of the country's opposition parties -- the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party -- voiced support for revising the Constitution's Article 96 which requires a vote of two-thirds or more of the members in each house of parliament before a referendum can be held.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, the New Komeito party which is the LDP's coalition partner, and the People's Life Party expressed a cautious stance on relaxing the requirements.

The Japanese Communist Party opposed revision of the article.

Members of the ruling and opposition parties discussed the matter at a session of the Commission on the Constitution of the House of Representatives, the lower house.

The Social Democratic Party, which is opposed to revision of the article, could not send any of its members to the lower house panel as it has only two seats in the 480-seat house.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who heads the LDP has called for relaxing the requirement of a two-thirds majority to a simple overall majority.

In its draft constitutional revision plan compiled last year, the LDP called for relaxing the requirement to a simple majority.

Abe, who is keen to rewrite the current war-renouncing Article 9 and create stronger defense forces, is seeking to stir a nationwide debate on the revision of Article 96.

The LDP's draft constitutional revision plan, unveiled in April 2012, says the emperor is the country's head of state and the Self-Defense Forces are to be renamed as the country's national defense forces, becoming a fully acknowledged military.

The Constitution says the emperor is "the symbol of the state."

The lower house panel is scheduled to convene the next session on May 16.